Project information

What will this project do?

The project will compare about 200 million proteins encoded by the genes from a wide variety of known and unknown organisms. These genes came from organisms in samples taken from a range of environments, including water and soil, as well as on and in plants and animals. DNA from all the organisms in those samples (the metagenome) was extracted and analyzed to identify genes that encode proteins, most of which are enzymes. Uncovering Genome Mysteries will compare the proteins encoded by those genes to one another, both individually and in groups, to find genetic similarities. Such similarities can reveal the functions these organisms perform in various natural processes. Scientists can then use that knowledge to design solutions to solve important environmental, medical and industrial problems.

Why are gene comparisons important?

Because of recent advances in DNA sequencing technology, there is now a huge amount of gene information available for a wide variety of organisms, with more being decoded every day. Many of these organisms, particularly microorganisms, have never been studied in detail before. We therefore know little about what they can do, and how they interact with their environment. However, it is likely that many genes from unknown organisms will be similar to genes from organisms that we know more about. When similarities are found, researchers get a head start in understanding previously unknown organisms.

What will the results of this project be?

The researchers will publish an open-access database of the protein sequence comparisons computed on World Community Grid.

We expect that this information will help scientists discover new enzymatic functions, find how organisms interact with each other and the environment, document the current baseline microbial diversity, and better understand and model complex microbial systems.

What are the expected benefits of this project?

There are two main areas where this research is expected to have a beneficial effect: current scientific research, and future technologies.

On the research side, the results should help improve scientific knowledge about gene and protein functions and biochemical processes in general, as well as helping scientists understand how microbial communities are changing in response to changing conditions in the natural world.

There are also several exciting ways in which this knowledge may help solve pressing world problems. For example, new knowledge about organisms should help identify, design and produce new antibiotics and drugs against diseases, as well as new enzymes for industrial applications, such as food processing, chemical synthesis, or the production of biodegradable plastics or biofuels. In the long-term this knowledge should help us manage the diverse organisms’ important functions in the world's ecosystem, in all environments, in industrial settings, and in human, animal and plant interactions.