The past 20 years have witnessed an explosion of techniques for the characterisation of biological molecules. From the advent of high-throughput screening techniques to the rapid progress towards low-cost genome sequencing, the tools available for scientists to characterise biological systems have never been so complete or advanced so rapidly.
With the Human Genome Project has come a wealth of information about the susceptibility of individuals to certain diseases and disorders. The resultant wave of investment in new genetic screening technologies and services has triggered a transformation of attitudes towards the use of biological analytic tools to guide the application of medical care that continues at pace today. Accompanying these changing attitudes has been a staggering increase in the accuracy of genetic screening tests, and a corresponding drop in the time and cost of performing them.
In stark contrast to these rapid advances in nucleic acid characterisation, recent advances in the ability to characterise proteins have been negligible. A major impediment to such advances is the fact that protein analysis largely relies on tools, including immunoassays and optical spectroscopy, that have remained fundamentally unchanged for several decades. This state of affairs has left protein scientists encumbered by tools that are imprecise, time-consuming, costly or all three of the above.
There is thus a pressing need for new analytical tools to characterise proteins.