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Information for Researchers No. 87 | 10 December 2019
Priority Programme “Small Proteins in Prokaryotes, an Unexplored World” (SPP 2002)

In July 2017 the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Small Proteins in Prokaryotes, an Unexplored World” (SPP 2002). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

Prokaryotes are highly abundant and diverse organisms that live in 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 (sORF) in many prokaryotic genomes. These sORF encode small proteins of ≤ 70 amino acids in length, and are typically missed by automated gene predictions. Recent studies have shown that these small 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. The full repertoire in prokaryotes remains to be uncovered and particularly the function of cellular small proteins and the respective underlying molecular mechanisms.

This Priority Programme aims to explore this emerging major class of prokaryotic gene products by unravelling the full repertoire of sORF, studying the functions and physiological roles as well as underlying molecular mechanisms of prokaryotic small proteins. With the overall goal to characterise the functions of prokaryotic small proteins, this Priority Programme exclusively focuses on ribosomally synthesised small 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 at least two of the following aspects:

  • functionally characterise small proteins and identify their physiological role(s) and cellular pathways;
  • elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms of action of small proteins;
  • study the interaction partners together with the small proteins and/or their structures;
  • global identification of small proteins in selected prokaryotes using comparative genomics, translatomics and/or peptidomics.

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 small proteins to be studied should ideally meet the following criteria:

  • their size should be ≤ 70 amino acids;
  • 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 small proteins to be functionally studied have to be already experimentally verified;
  • the organism to be studied should be genetically tractable or an outstanding relevance be convincingly documented.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG no later than 27 Mai 2020. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 13 Mai 2020 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2002” from the current list of calls. Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal via elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

Proposals are currently planned to be evaluated by a review panel in the course of a colloquium with project presentations, which is anticipated to take place in Kiel, 1 to 2 September 2020. Principal investigators will receive formal invitations in due course. The envisaged start of funding is January 2021.

Potential applicants are kindly asked to send a summary of the intended project (applicant(s), preliminary title, plus a maximum of 5 lines of text) no later than 1 March 2020 by email to the coordinator (contacts see below). To allow for mutual information and coordination among applicants, these short summaries will be compiled and made available to all applicants named in these summaries.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr. Ruth Anne Schmitz-Streit
    Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
    Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
    Institut für Allgemeine Mikrobiologie
    Am Botanischen Garten 1–9
    24118 Kiel
    phone +49 431 8804334
    Link auf E-Mailrschmitz@ifam.uni-kiel.de

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:


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