Small proteins, here defined as proteins of 50 amino acids or fewer in the absence of processing, have traditionally been overlooked due to challenges in their annotation and biochemical detection. In the past several years, however, increasing numbers of small proteins have been identified either through the realization that mutations in intergenic regions are actually within unannotated small protein genes or through the discovery that some small, regulatory RNAs encode small proteins. These insights, together with comparative sequence analysis, indicate that tens if not hundreds of small proteins are synthesized in a given organism. This review summarizes what has been learned about the functions of several of these bacterial small proteins, most of which act at the membrane, illustrating the astonishing range of processes in which these small proteins act and suggesting several general conclusions. Important questions for future studies of these overlooked proteins are also discussed.
Keywords: cell division; membrane; protein; signal transduction; sporulation; transport.