Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Meet Jan Reedijk

Jan Reedijk is a professor of chemistry from the Leiden University in The Netherlands. His research interests include coordination chemistry,  bio-inorganic chemistry and metal applications in medicine. In September 2011 he was invited as a keynote speaker at the 5th International Conference on Metals and Genetics (ICMG-5), held in Kobe, Japan. The following perspective is based on his lecture, why not click through and have a read!

Fast and slow versus strong and weak metal–DNA binding: consequences for anti-cancer activity
Jan Reedijk
Metallomics, 2012, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/C2MT20032E

We were also lucky enough to have Jan sit down and answer a few questions about himself.

Your paper is a review on metal-DNA binding and their consequences for anti-cancer activity. What’s hot at the moment/going to be next big thing in this field? I would say that now increasing numbers of people feel that metal-protein interaction, so long neglected in this field, need to be given consideration as well. In fact I do hint to that issue at the end of my review already.

What projects are you working on at the moment? I have retired from my full time job, and now only collaborate with others in this field.

Is there anything you’d have done differently in your career? For sure many things! Everybody makes mistakes, but from these mistakes we learn and improve.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? Curiosity in Chemistry!

What’s the secret to running a successful research group? Make sure that your group members all feel they belong to a team, and do share the scientific challenges with them, even with the youngest undergraduates. This will stimulate and enhance creativity,

What do enjoy doing in your spare time? Tennis, jogging, golf, listening classical music, hiking.

Where in the world would you most like to visit and why? I have been in many interesting places during my active career. No real wishes left; Hawaii perhaps: I had planned to go for Pacifichem, but had to cancel (2009) due to illness.

Thank you Jan for taking some time out to talk to us.

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Meet Chris Rensing

Prof. Chris Rensing

Prof. Chris Rensing, Guest Editor of our upcoming issue on Metal Toxicity

We will soon be publishing our themed issue on Metal Toxicity, Guest Edited by Gregor Grass and Chris Rensing.  Chris is an Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, and he took the time to tell us about himself.  Read on to find out why he became a scientist, what he’s most proud of in his career and why he feels metal toxicity deserved a Metallomics issue of its own…

You’re a Guest Editor for the Metallomics themed issue on Metal Toxicity.  Why is this area important and interesting?

Almost half of known enzymes contain a metal co-factor, so metals are a requisite for life but can be toxic if in excess. This was known for a long time but not what the actual targets of individual metals inside the cell were. Instead you are confronted with a plethora of false claims and half truths when searching the literature for mechanisms of metal toxicity. So we thought it would be of great help to scientists working in this area to have a special issue dealing with precisely this topic. It’s important because it influences everything from neuroscience (see the recent themed issue on Metals in Neurodegenerative Diseases) to climate change.

What’s hot at the moment in this field?

The tug of war over metals in pathogenesis. Macrophages will attempt to withhold manganese and iron from the invading pathogens while, at the same time, using copper to kill them. Bacteria will do the opposite to survive: take up manganese and iron while keeping out excess copper. A better understanding of these processes might lead to more effective antimicrobial drugs.

You’ve contributed a review on copper toxicity; how did you become interested in this area?  What projects are you working on at the moment?

When I was working in the lab of Barry Rosen as a post-doc, I started out working on ZntA, the Zn(II),Cd(II),Pb(II)-translocating P-type ATPase when the E. coli genome sequence came out and showed there is only one other putative metal-transporting P-type ATPase present. We decided to find out what substrate it transported and that turned out to be copper and silver, and was thus named CopA.  A deletion of copA, however, was still pretty resistant to copper so when my first post-doc, Gregor Grass, arrived we decided to find out what other genes contributed to copper resistance. That is how our studies on the multicopper oxidase CueO and the RND transport system CusCFBA got started.

Which of your previous research are you most proud of?

Transport measurement with radioactive isotopes can be quite exhilarating, if successful, so the two moments when I finally got ZntA and CopA to transport zinc and copper respectively was a special occasion.  More recently, characterizing bacterial arsenic methylation and figuring out how the periplasmic copper effluc pump CusCFBA works.

You started your career in Germany and have been in the USA for many years now.  What are the similarities and differences between the scientific communities of both places?

In the United States, there are many more faculty positions because you have to basically raise your own money for research. In Germany a typical faculty position will automatically support a few positions even without obtaining a grant.  The good thing in the US, therefore, is that they at least give you a fighting chance; the down side is that you might quickly not have a research program anymore. Of course, the Germans will typically not see it that way because they enjoy complaining! (We’ll let Chris get away with that because he’s German himself)

In my own judgement (and I can only talk about what I have observed), scientific debate in the US is often very tame and polite, which can prevent open and honest discussion because you worry about being misunderstood.  Honest scientific debate at your own institution can also be quite tricky as nobody wants to rock the (financial) boat.

What inspires you, both professionally and personally?

The unknown. I like figuring out how things work, get to know new people or accept a new challenge.

Collaborations form a large part of modern scientific research. Which scientist, past or present, would you really like to work with?

There are quite a number I admire. I would say Francis Crick in the past and today Ham Smith and Craig Venter. I used to box and I like to listen to the Ali swagger in science too.

At what stage did you decide to become a scientist? Did you consider any other careers?

I was pretty bad at the other avenues I tried! My bands went nowhere, my reflexes were too slow for professional boxing and as a DJ, well…  I sometimes jokingly used to say “Last Resort scientist”. (That’s a play on words since the Last Resort is a skinhead shop in London and yes, I used to wear my Ben Sherman shirts and Doc Martens.)

Seriously, I was always interested in science and have many pleasant memories visiting my dad at the II. Zoologische Institut in Göttingen (Chris’ dad, Ludger, is a biologist who has contributed to the Editorial for the themed issue). So after doing my 18 month civil service I knew that science was where my passion was and what I wanted to do in the future.

Can you tell us a little known fact about yourself?

I used to have a crush on Rhoda Dakar of the Bodysnatchers, a Ska band from the early eighties.  She still looks sharp in her fifties. More embarrassing than that, I still don’t use Endnote.

Finally, what advice would you give to young scientists today?

It is a great time to get into science. Getting your own genome sequenced will cost about $1000 very soon and will revolutionize the medical field among many other things. Work on the human microbiome has really only started, again with tremendous future opportunities. Get a good foundation in a well-funded lab to learn the tools of the trade but also get training in an area that most find too difficult.  Then, go for an area that is just opening up due to new technological advances.

We’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to do this interview, and of course for all his work on the themed issue.  You can get a look of the review that he and Gregor have written here, and look out for the full themed issue coming very soon.

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Meet our authors: Toshiyuki Fukada and Taiho Kambe

Metallomics wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our authors so we’d like to get to know them a bit better and discover the people behind the science.  We’ve just published a tutorial review by Toshiyuki Fukada and Taiho Kambe; they were kind enough to answer my questions and you can read their responses below.

Their tutorial review will be published in our Metallomics in Japan themed issue this summer and I’m pleased to let blog readers know that we’ll be featuring the paper on the front cover of that issue so keep your eyes peeled!

Toshiyuki Fukada (left) and Taiho Kambe (right)

Molecular and genetic features of zinc transporters in physiology and pathogenesis
Toshiyuki Fukada and Taiho Kambe
Metallomics, 2011
DOI: 10.1039/c1mt00011j

What initially inspired you to become a scientist?
Toshiyuki Fukada: I grew up in Shizuoka prefecture, where I enjoyed nature: ocean, rivers, mountains, and Mt. Fuji. These natural circumstances during childhood definitely stimulated my interest in nature. And I cannot forget two teachers, Ms Tomiko Maruo in my elementary school and Ms Naoko Makimoto in my high school, who inspired me to choose science as a career.
Taiho Kambe: When I was a boy, I was fascinated by the wonders of fermentation. Microorganisms make various delicious foods! Yoghurt, cheese, miso, soy source, etc. During my undergraduate study I was greatly enchanted by biochemistry thus I chose to pursue a doctorate in this field.

What do you love about your job?
TF: Scientific activities can generate creativity, and the possibility of the infinite.
TK: It is the privilege of scientists to search for truth, find something new, invent a novel machine, and make new effective medicine etc. I love this point in my job. Zinc research is a  new research field and there are many things to be solved in the future.

Where do you see your research heading next?
TF: Resolving the structure of mammalian zinc transporters, and the mechanisms of how zinc transporters are activated or inactivated.
TK: We are very interested in when, where, and how zinc transporters monitor zinc concentrations and control the influx and efflux of zinc, and when, where, and how zinc-containing proteins capture and dissociate zinc mediated by zinc transporters in the correct location.

What’s hot at the moment/going to be next big thing in your field?
TF: Since I have my research background in the investigation of intracellular signal transduction, I am keen to know the mechanisms of how each of the zinc transporters determines their biological specificities to control intracellular signaling pathways. That should be the next big subject.
TK: Recently, increased evidence has revealed the importance of zinc in physiological and patho-physiological functions. A number of efficient Zn-related drugs will be developed, and will contribute to human health.

What do enjoy doing in your spare time?
TF: In my spare time, my passion is Aikido, a Japanese martial art.  I have enjoyed training for over 25 years.   I also enjoy listening to classical music and visiting art museums: I am a fan of Wagner for music, Rembrandt and Taro Okamoto for paintings.
TK: Hiking in Kyoto city with my family. There are many temples and shrines in Kyoto city because Kyoto has a long history as an old capital in Japan.

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
TF: I would open and teach at my own dojo.
TK: I had belonged to baseball teams for 12 years since I was 5 years old. So, if I weren’t a scientist, I would like to be a baseball player.

Collaborations form a large part of modern scientific research. Which scientist, past or present, would you really like to work with?
TF: Physicians and medical scientists, since I am interested in the roles of zinc and zinc transporters in health and disease. Dr Shiro Ikegawa and Andrea Superti-Furga are the scientists whom I really would like to work again.
TK: That is somewhat a difficult question. Since zinc research field ranges widely, I would like to work with anyone in any field who can help to solve any questions involved in zinc. I think the proverb “Four eyes see more than two” holds true for zinc research very much.

If you could solve any scientific problem in any field, what would it be?
TF: Preventing desertification in the world, if I could.
TK: I would like to find and develop safe and cheap energy resources. As you know, a terrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Now we have serious problems with nuclear reactors, which have caused severe electric energy shortages in Tokyo. That presents a major challenge.

It’s the International Year of Chemistry – what one discovery or development would you like to highlight?
TF: The Light Emitting Diode, it has changed our lifestyles.
TK: The lithium-ion battery, which will contribute more to resolution of social problems concerning resources, environment and energy faced by human beings.

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Meet our author: Nicholas Farrell

In Issue 2, Professor Nicholas Farrell of Virginia Commonwealth University published a review on zinc finger proteins.  I was lucky enough to meet Nick at the GRC on Metals in Biology in Ventura, California earlier this year (yes, it’s a tough job!) and had the chance to ask him about his research and career.

Read on to find out more about Prof. Farrell’s work, his time working at the interface between science and diplomacy, what he learnt from his experiences with the pharmaceutical industry and why he likes the scenic route…

Critical Review: Zinc finger proteins as templates for metal ion exchange and ligand reactivity. Chemical and biological consequences
Susana M. Quintal, Queite Antonia dePaula and Nicholas P. Farrell
Metallomics, 2011, 3, 121-139
DOI: 10.1039/C0MT00070A

What motivated you to specialise in biological and medical aspects of inorganic chemistry?
As a graduate student in the period 1969-1973 the cisplatin story was emerging (Rosenberg’s Nature paper on the antitumour effects of platinum compounds was published in 1969) and it was just such an unexpected finding that it caught many people’s imagination.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
We have three main projects within the general area of medicinal inorganic chemistry:

  • The trinuclear compound BBR3464 is the prototype of polynuclear platinum compounds developed in my laboratory. We are working on “second-generation” analogs for clinical development.
  • We also continue our work on the biological activity of the trans geometry – the original structure-activity relationships of platinum antitumour drugs said the trans geometry was therapeutically inactive. My lab has been the leader in challenging this assumption and we are now studying compounds with good antitumour activity in vivo.
  • Finally, related to the Metallomics article, we are very interested in new biological targets for inorganic compounds. We think zinc fingers are highly promising in this regard. We are asking the question – how do you systematically change the chemotype of a cytotoxic agent to a more specific protein family? This approach could produce much more selective drugs.

In your opinion, what’s hot at the moment and/or going to be next big thing in your field?
That is hard to say.  There are interesting advances in imaging the fate of inorganic ions and drugs in cells, which could have benefits in understanding the relevance of inorganic ions in neurodegenerative disease. Specifically for platinum, there are few, if any, clinical trials of new platinum and metal-based agents at this time. There are many reasons for this, some scientific some commercial. It is possible that newer formulations can be successful and expand the range of cancers sensitive to platinum.

If you could solve any scientific problem in any field, what would it be?
For biological and medical research, I think the whole issue of antibacterial multidrug resistance is a worldwide problem, with significant impacts for public health. The daunting task is to recognize the complexity of the contributing factors to develop global or at least regional strategies to combat antimicrobial resistance.

What’s the secret to running a successful research group?
My opinion is to lead by example. Students do feel part of the “group” – but should also be encouraged to expand their own knowledge base and in an ideal world would regularly challenge even the “preconceptions” of the group.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
I was good at languages in school and I like writing.  However, within the realm of science, my tenure as a Jefferson Science Fellow in the Department of State for the academic year 2010-2011 has given me also a greater insight into the role and importance of science and technology in development and diplomacy.  The challenge of foreign policy informed by science diplomacy can create conditions that make the citizens of all countries shareholders in this enterprise, capable of making genuine contributions to world-wide problems and, in so doing, offer educational and economic opportunities most often associated with the developed world.

What advice would you give your younger self?  Is there anything you’d have done differently in your career?
I have always taken a broad view – sometimes the road to discovery is not linear. The “scenic” route is full of surprises.

You’ve worked at the interface between academic research and pharmaceuticals – tell us about that experience and what you learned from it.
When the pharmaceutical company buys into the project it is exciting as they put their full expertise behind it and their people are genuinely interested in providing new medicines. An academic does need a champion in industry but if that relationship changes for whatever reason – people moving, change of ownership, simple ambition – then your project can be “lost” amongst the competing ones. It is difficult but very desirable to maintain some control over the project.

It’s the International Year of Chemistry – what one discovery or development would you like to highlight?
Picking one development is not easy but the engagement of chemists in climate change and green energy (two but related) engages chemists in societal and environmental issues – an engagement which is very positive.

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