There are many prizes for cultural activities, of which science is one. This week has seen the announcement of the Nobel prizes, a little earlier the IgNobels were awarded. There are, of course many other prizes. I have decided to set up my own.
A question that bugs me and which loomed large while I read the excellent review by Ding Xu and Jeff Esko from UCSD on “Demystifying Heparan Sulfate–Protein Interactions” is how many extracellular proteins are there?
This is an important question, since the interaction of extracellular proteins with heparan sulfate is absolutely central to cell communication, development, homeostasis and many diseases (cue: read that review). Experimental data take a good while to acquire and then be reproduced and validated. The field is extremely welcoming and inclusive socially, so I thought there is another way: open a book and award a prize.
Rules of entry
1. Deadline for entries is that date in the future when we agree on the number of heparan sulfate binding proteins in Homo sapiens.
2. To avoid argument over the actual number, a protein will be defined as the product of a gene, and encompass all splice variants, posttranslational modifications, etc.
3. To avoid further argument over the number (knowing the field, we love an argument, in the best sense of the word), an extracellular protein is a protein (see 1) that is demonstrated to at some time, in some tissue of the human body, in development, health or disease, to occur outside the cell. This is a geographical definition, not topological, so a protein exclusively in an intracellular membrane compartment is classed as intracellular.
4. The interaction of the protein has to be demonstrated directly. This may be done by biochemical means in vitro or by analysis of cells/tissue using mass spectrometry, advanced microscopy or the technique we would all happily flog our souls for, but has yet to be invented.
5. ANYONE can enter, even the organiser. This is a truly Open Access science prize. However, only one entry per individual is allowed. NSA, GCHQ, KGB Black Hats et al. will be employed to check that there is only one entry per person – they have your MAC addresses, IP addresses, etc., are paid by the taxpayer and so are responsible to you. Therefore, you can be certain that this will prevent any cheating.
A beer. If you don’t drink alcohol, St Christopher or similar, if you do, then what I consider to be the lead beer of your country. You may suggest and the organiser will agree, on a singular output of a specific brewery, only if this is a small (≥250 employees) outfit.
Verification of the quality and value of the prize
I accept that it may be a while before the prize can be awarded. Therefore, I will undertake the onerous task of checking periodically that the prize is worth winning, through a process of random sampling.
I reckon that the number is around one third of extracellular proteins, and after a huge number of calculations I have come up with: 1757 heparan sulfate binding proteins encoded in the genome of Homo Sapiens.
What is your number?
Rest assured that I will be soliciting entries at every forthcoming meeting on the subject that I attend, and unlike the Ancient Mariner, I will stop everyone, not just one in three. You may, wisely, decide to avoid my “glittering eye” and enter your number below in the comments section. Your choice.