Skip to navigation Skip to content

Hutton wins Pioneer funding to unlock protein “dark matter”

Dr Runxuan Zhang
“With these better insights, we can help to understand biological functions and processes, show how signalling networks operate, discover disease biomarkers for human and identify key genes underlying important traits in plants”

Research on proteins that could help scientists improve and develop new crops could get a significant boost thanks to a newly funded project aimed at unlocking the “dark matter” that regular research methods can’t see.

Using a share of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Pioneer Award funding, The James Hutton Institute’s Dr Runxuan Zhang will explore novel computational techniques that improve how much data scientists can interpret when studying proteins by up to 80%.

Until now, studying plant proteins, which control how plants grow and function, but also their health benefits, involves either costly genetic analysis or, more commonly, a technique called mass spectrometry.

However, only 20% of mass spectrometry data can currently interpreted, largely because most of the computational analysis behind it isn’t sensitive enough, holding this area of science – which can also be used in human and animal health – back, says Dr Zhang.

“Only small portion of the high-quality mass spectrometry data acquired in an experiment yields identification of what we are looking for, such as peptides, one of the building blocks of proteins,” he says. “This reflects the limited sensitivity of current computational methods.

“Computational methods for proteomics – the study of proteins – are essential for interpreting data and generating biological insights. So we hope to develop novel computational methods to enable comprehensive and sensitive proteomics analysis.

“With these better insights, we can help to understand biological functions and processes, show how signalling networks operate, discover disease biomarkers for human and identify key genes underlying important traits in plants.”

Dr Zhang is among a group of 62 researchers to win a share of a the £12 million BBSRC Pioneer Award funding, which supports the exploring of early-stage ideas at the frontiers of bioscience.

By drawing on unconventional thinking and approaches, the investigators hope to make exciting discoveries with the potential to transform our understanding of the rules of life.

These new investigations aim to radically change the way we think about important biological phenomena, covering plant, microbial, and animal sciences.

The funding provided through BBSRC’s Pioneer Awards allows investigators to explore untested bioscience ideas that challenge conventional thinking and open up novel areas of exploration. 

The pioneer awards help drive BBSRC’s strategic priority to support world-class ideas as outlined in its Strategic Delivery Plan 2022 – 2025. The aim is to keep the UK at the leading-edge of bioscience discovery by supporting people and teams to pursue great ideas and promote research that advances our understanding of the fundamental “rules of life”.

Press and media enquiries: 

Elaine Maslin, Media Officer, The James Hutton Institute elaine.maslin@hutton.ac.uk, tel: +44 (0)1224 395076 or +44 (0)7977 805808 


Printed from /news/hutton-wins-pioneer-funding-unlock-protein-%E2%80%9Cdark-matter%E2%80%9D on 26/02/24 12:41:11 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.