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The term proteome was first used in 1995 and has been applied to several different types of biological systems. A cellular proteome is the collection of proteins found in a particular cell type under a particular set of environmental conditions such as exposure to hormone stimulation. It can also be useful to consider an organism's complete proteome. The complete proteome for an organism can be conceptualized as the complete set of proteins from all of the various cellular proteomes. This is very roughly the protein equivalent of the genome. The term "proteome" has also been used to refer to the collection of proteins in certain sub-cellular biological systems. For example, all of the proteins in a virus can be called a viral proteome.

The proteome is larger than the genome, expecially in eukaryotes, in the sense there are more proteins than genes. This is due to alternative splicing of genes and post-translational modifications like glycosylation or phosphorylation.

Moreover the proteome has at least two levels of complexity lacking in the genome. When the genome is defined by the sequence of nucleotides, the proteome cannot be limited to the sum of the sequences of the proteins present. Knowledge of the proteome requires knowledge of (1) the structure of the proteins in the proteome and (2) the functional interaction between the proteins.

Proteomics, the study of the proteome, has largely been practiced through the separation of proteins by two dimensional gel electrophoresis. In the first dimension, the proteins are separated by isoelectric focusing, which resolves proteins on the basis of charge. In the second dimension, proteins are separated by molecular weight using SDS-PAGE. The gel is dyed with Coomassie Blue or silver to visualize the proteins. Spots on the gel are proteins that have migrated to specific locations.

The mass spectrometer has augmented proteomics. Mass mapping identifies a protein by cleaving it into short peptides and then deduces the protein's identity by matching the observed peptide masses against a sequence database. Tandem mass spectrometry, on the other hand, can get sequence information from individual peptides by isolating them, colliding them with a nonreactive gas, and then cataloging the fragment ions produced.

Proteome is also the name of a formerly independent company involved in protein functional annotation; this company has been purchased by Incyte Genomics.

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