Functional unknomics: Systematic screening of conserved genes of unknown function

PLoS Biol. 2023 Aug 8;21(8):e3002222. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002222. eCollection 2023 Aug.


The human genome encodes approximately 20,000 proteins, many still uncharacterised. It has become clear that scientific research tends to focus on well-studied proteins, leading to a concern that poorly understood genes are unjustifiably neglected. To address this, we have developed a publicly available and customisable "Unknome database" that ranks proteins based on how little is known about them. We applied RNA interference (RNAi) in Drosophila to 260 unknown genes that are conserved between flies and humans. Knockdown of some genes resulted in loss of viability, and functional screening of the rest revealed hits for fertility, development, locomotion, protein quality control, and resilience to stress. CRISPR/Cas9 gene disruption validated a component of Notch signalling and 2 genes contributing to male fertility. Our work illustrates the importance of poorly understood genes, provides a resource to accelerate future research, and highlights a need to support database curation to ensure that misannotation does not erode our awareness of our own ignorance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila* / genetics
  • Fertility* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • RNA Interference