Let them eat cake!

Who ever said you can’t have cake at 8 in the morning never heard of the chromosome-​​centric human pro­teome project. Yes­terday morning a group of researchers from all around the globe gath­ered at Hynes Con­ven­tion Center in Boston to kick-​​off of the project, which aims to unearth all the pro­teins encoded by our DNA, one chro­mo­some at a time. And they had cake to cel­e­brate with.

Ten years ago a sim­ilar group of researchers unveiled the human genome after a decade of work. But that genome is only the blue­print for what hap­pens inside the body. The pro­teins encoded by those genes are the building mate­rials and C-​​HPP is taking an orga­nized, inter­na­tion­ally col­lab­o­ra­tive approach to naming them all.

Each of the 24 chro­mo­somes in the human body has been assigned a research team from one of 16 coun­tries. The rea­sons behind team selec­tion were varied, said Bill Han­cock, the North­eastern Pro­fessor co-​​chairing the ini­tia­tive. In the case of Chro­mo­some 8, China got it because 8 is a lucky number in that country. China also got the biggest chro­mo­some car­rying the most genetic infor­ma­tion, because that country does the majority of the world’s gene sequencing. Hancock’s team is pur­suing Chro­mo­some 17 because it is home to The ERB-​​2 gene, which is respon­sible for many types of cancer. Han­cock has been looking at the ERB-​​2 pro­teome since his days as an industry researcher at Genentech.

The cel­e­bra­tion included a host of speakers, from prin­ciple inves­ti­ga­tors to industry providers.

Gil Omenn, chair of the larger Human Pro­teome Project, which has sev­eral ini­tia­tives like the C-​​HPP, called the it a “prodi­gious devel­op­ment” for the organization.

Henry Rodriguez of the National Cancer Insti­tute said the ten-​​year endeavor could be summed up in two words: “Awe­some” and “elegant.”

Aaron Hudson from ASBI said he pre­ferred to address the group “as a global cit­izen who sees the poten­tial of the C-​​HPP and is full of hope for the health and well being of nations, my grand­chil­dren, and sci­en­tific col­lab­o­ra­tion across nations,” pointing out that polit­ical dis­par­i­ties between coun­tries like the US and Iran would not get in the way of the inter­na­tional effort.

Young-​​Ki Paik of Korea chairs the ini­tia­tive and called the cel­e­bra­tion an his­toric moment for filling out the parts list of human genetics.

As the group of speakers and prin­ciple inves­ti­ga­tors gath­ered for a photo-​​op and cake cut­ting, I over­heard one member say “This is the parts list right here!”