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Information for Researchers No. 44 | 14 July 2016
Priority Programme “Small Proteins in Prokaryotes, an Unexplored World” (SPP 2002)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the establishment of a new Priority Programme entitled “Small Proteins in Prokaryotes, an Unexplored World” (SPP 2002). The Priority Programme is designed to run for six years; the present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Prokaryotes are highly abundant and diverse organisms that live in literally all ecological niches. They have broad impact on the environment and our health, and are crucial for biotechnology and the food industry. To fully understand their versatile lifestyles and exploit their metabolic capacities, we must know their biochemical repertoires and cellular regulatory processes. Modern genomics and transcriptomics technology have over the past decade discovered a wealth of hidden small genes containing short open reading frames (sORFs) in many prokaryotic genomes. These sORFs encode µ-proteins of < 50 amino acids in length, and are typically missed by automated gene predictions. Preliminary studies have shown that these µ-proteins impact disparate cellular processes, running the gamut of energy generation, transport, virulence, symbiosis, sporulation, and photosynthesis. They often localise to membranes and can modulate the activity of larger protein complexes. These initial findings notwithstanding, the full repertoire and function of this cellular µ-proteome comprising perhaps hundreds of µ-proteins in any given prokaryote remains to be uncovered.

This Priority Programme aims to unravel this emerging major class of prokaryotic gene products in order to examine the full repertoire, functions and functional importance of the prokaryotic µ-proteome. With the overall goal to identify the composition and characterise the function(s) of the prokaryotic µ-proteome this Priority Programme exclusively focusses on ribosomally synthesised µ-proteins in prokaryotes and excludes the analysis of peptides generated by processing of larger proteins or non-ribosomal biogenesis.

Projects to be funded have to address two of the following aspects:

  • global identification of µ-proteins in selected prokaryotes using comparative genomics, translatomics and/or peptidomics
  • elucidate the functions and interaction partners of µ-proteins as well as their underlying molecular mechanisms
  • advance novel analytical tools to identify and functionally characterise µ-proteins and their physiological roles

Achieving the goals of this Priority Programme requires an interdisciplinary cooperation of researchers in microbiology, infection biology, plant physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, genomics as well as applied bioinformatics. To further promote collaborations and conceptual coherence of the programme and therefore highly fruitful exchange between all projects the prokaryotic µ-proteins to be studied should ideally meet the following criteria:

  • Their size should be ≤ 50 aa (with exceptions up to 70 aa if well justified e.g. by length variations of conserved µ-proteins).
  • Leader peptides generated by attenuation processes will be excluded unless a direct function of the leader peptide in addition to the translational control of the down-stream ORF is expected.
  • The μ-proteins to be functionally studied have to be already experimentally verified.
  • The organism to be studied is genetically tractable.

Proposals must be submitted in English via the DFG’s electronic submission system “elan” selecting “SPP 2002”. If you are using the “elan” system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional addresses before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a temporary position for principal investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

Please notice the rules for publications lists: Beside the general bibliography, every proposal should include a list of up to ten publications that relate directly to the project. Furthermore, the CVs can list up to ten publications that do not necessarily have to document preliminary work for the project. These publications need to be classified as a) refereed publications (published articles and monographs; accepted articles with note of acceptance by the journal) or b) other publications.

Proposals must be submitted no later than 12 December 2016. Please follow the guidelines for project submission according to the forms 50.05 and 54.01 (German/English). Proposals are currently planned to be evaluated by a review panel in the course of a colloquium with aural project presentations which is anticipated to take place in Bonn, in March or April 2017. Principal investigators will receive formal invitations in due course. The envisaged start of funding is summer 2017.

Further Information

The DFG’s electronic portal “elan” can be found at:

Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in the DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01, which can be found on the DFG’s website at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

Further instructions on submitting a proposal are supplied by the DFG:

For scientific matters:

For administrative matters: