Reporting their work in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), the researchers have described 'protein chips' as objects that have proteins attached to them, and that allow important scientific data about the behaviour of proteins to be gathered.
The Manchester team of Dr Lu Shin Wong, Dr Jenny Thirlway and Prof Jason Micklefield say that functional protein arrays may help run tests on tens of thousands of different proteins simultaneously, observing how they interact with cells, other proteins, DNA, and drugs.
Being able to place and locate proteins on a ''chip'' may make it possible to generate large amounts of data with the minimum use of materials, especially rare proteins that are only available in very small amounts, say the researchers.
They insist that their approach offers a reliable new way of attaching active proteins to a chip.
The researchers say that they have engineered modified proteins with a special tag, which makes them attach to a surface in a highly specified way, and ensures that they remains functional.
According to them, the attachment take place in a single step in just a few hours, and does not require any prior chemical modification of the protein of interest or additional chemical steps.
Prof Jason Micklefield from the School of Chemistry, said: "DNA chips have revolutionised biological and medical science. For many years scientists have tried to develop similar protein chips but technical difficulties associated with attaching large numbers of proteins to surfaces have prevented their widespread application. The method we have developed could have profound applications in the diagnosis of disease, screening of new drugs and in the detection of bacteria, pollutants, toxins and other molecules."
The researchers are presently working as part of a consortium of several universities on a 3.1 million-pound project, aimed at developing so-called ''nanoarrays'' that would be much smaller than existing ''micro arrays''.
They say that such nanoarrays would allow thousands more protein samples to be placed on a single ''chip'', reducing cost and vastly increasing the volume of data that could be simultaneously collected.