New tools raise the bar for protein research

2 March 2015

​Two recent publications by Lennart Martens, associated with VIB and Ghent University, have launched a new eco system for life sciences data. The first describes a system providing free global online access to experimentally collected data about the proteins that keep our cells working. The second publication adds a free, open source software application which, using the latest hi-tech in bioinformatics, enables users to (re)analyze this freely available data on their own computer in any possible way with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Lennart Martens (VIB/UGent): "A lot of work still has to be done as far as reanalysis is concerned. Of the hundreds of millions of protein data entered, only 20% has been interpreted so far. The remaining 80% undoubtedly has a wealth of new knowledge in store for us."

The importance of proteins and protein studies
Proteins are the workhorses in our cells. Among other things they are responsible for structural stability, communication, energy production and the replication of DNA and RNA. In other words, for our bodies to function properly, thousands of proteins need to constantly interact with each other in different ways. These proteins are also subject to various modifications, which can result in a sudden change in interactions and functions. Every living organism, humans, animals, plants and microbes alike, has its own, specific and complex protein network. Proteomics refers to the study of such protein networks, the so-called proteome, and it provides a lot of important information about how biological processes take place. Furthermore, tiny changes often have huge consequences for the (dys)functionality of the entire network.

Exploring new horizons
The next step in the plans of the research team is to analyze the unknown data, a research project that already involves huge amounts of computing. Since computers are not the most creative of sorts, a plan is currently underway that involves a simple Smartphone game based on more creative human 'wet-ware'  to (unwittingly) interpret these mysterious data.

Lennart Martens: "As far as we're concerned, literally anyone – including people without any prior knowledge – can join us in exploring this unknown data, and it would be nice if they could do it “on the side”– while traveling on  the bus, for instance, or waiting for their sandwich at the counter!"

Relevant publications


Lennart Martens will be presenting his latest research at the ‘Applied bioinformatics in Life Sciences’ conference in Leuven, Belgium on March 17-18, 2016.

More info on


Protein Inference Graph
© VIB, 2015