Research in proteomics is the next step after genomics in understanding life processes at the molecular level. In the largest sense proteomics encompasses knowledge of the structure, function and expression of all proteins in the biochemical or biological contexts of all organisms. Since that is an impossible goal to achieve, at least in our lifetimes, it is appropriate to set more realistic, achievable goals for the field. Up to now, primarily for reasons of feasibility, scientists have tended to concentrate on accumulating information about the nature of proteins and their absolute and relative levels of expression in cells (the primary tools for this have been 2D gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry). Although these data have been useful and will continue to be so, the information inherent in the broader definition of proteomics must also be obtained if the true promise of the growing field is to be realized. Acquiring this knowledge is the challenge for researchers in proteomics and the means to support these endeavors need to be provided. An attempt has been made to present the major issues confronting the field of proteomics and two clear messages come through in this report. The first is that the mandate of proteomics is and should be much broader than is frequently recognized. The second is that proteomics is much more complicated than sequencing genomes. This will require new technologies but it is highly likely that many of these will be developed. Looking back 10 to 20 years from now, the question is: Will we have done the job wisely or wastefully? This report summarizes the presentations made at a symposium at the National Academy of Sciences on February 25, 2002.
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