Genova (Italy), 3 August 2021 – A device able to generate proteins identity card: this is the ambitious goal of the "PROTEIN ID" project, funded by the European Union with about 3 million euro for the next 3 years and coordinated by the IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology). The innovative device will be able to read the fingerprint of proteins, tracing their identity in a short time, through the conjunction of spectroscopic techniques, machine learning and sensors capable of operating at the nanometer level. Applications could be in the field of medical diagnostics, genomics and the identification of biological contaminants, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
PROTEIN-ID was funded under the European Union's Horizon 2020 FET program that supported the most ambitious technology projects, now EIC Pathfinder. The consortium, coordinated by Francesco De Angelis, head of IIT's Plasmon Nanotechnologies Lab, involves 7 partners including universities, research institutes and companies.
The goals of the PROTEIN-ID project are part of the research that the international scientific community is carrying out to obtain a complete atlas of human proteins, the proteome, but with the more specific purpose of identifying which proteins are present - and not just encoded at the genome level - in the human body. This knowledge, in fact, is essential to be able to predict the onset of possible diseases.
The research consortium plans to create a technological platform capable of "seeing" the individual amino acids that make up proteins and, based on their sequence, trace the identity of the protein. For the device it will be sufficient to record the sequence in the chain of only a few amino acids because by using machine learning techniques, the reading will be compared with the protein database and the correspondence will be identified. Each protein, in fact, is characterized by a precise combination of amino acids arranged in a chain, starting from 20 basic amino acids.
The sensitivity of the instrument will be guaranteed by using RAMAN spectroscopic techniques combined with the action of a nanometric sensor capable of optically excite the individual amino acids and read their response - at such physical dimensions it is necessary to use plasmons. The device will be built in a way that allows to record in a very fast and precise way the passage of an amino acid that occurs in a microsecond. In that microsecond the amino acid is illuminated by the plasmon and its response, that is the RAMAN signal, is recorded. The succession of the different response signals constitutes the spectroscopic imprint of the protein, from which it is therefore possible to derive its identity.
The PROTEIN-ID research consortium is composed of IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (coordinator), Université du Luxembourg (Luxembourg), KIT- Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (Germany), CNRS - Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), EMBL- European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Germany), Politecnico di Milano (Italy), University of Padua (Italy) and Micro photon devices srl (Italy).