You’ve gotta admire a guy whose business cards even resemble 2D gels (you also might question his sanity, but we prefer to call it “dedicated”). Phil Andrews, a professor at the University of Michigan, has been a proteomics proponent “forever, basically,” he says. “My interest has always been post-translational modification.”
He’s interested in working with cell models to determine exactly what goes on in these modifications, but he doesn’t leap right into simulation. “I’m the kind of person who likes to have all the data before I build a model,” he says. In order to get the kind of data he needs for that, he has to look at thousands of proteins to study phosphorylation, mapping, and size. But Andrews wasn’t happy with the data from the standard 2D-gel electrophoresis and mass spec because he felt that separating out the proteins meant a good chunk of interesting data wasn’t making it to the mass spec. So instead of performing the second step with the gels, he adds the protease to the gel and “then [puts] that directly in the mass spec.”
After working to improve reproducibility and sensitivity, he says the process is better than the tools many people use. Because there’s less chance for contamination and the mass spec gets all the information rather than just the pieces plucked out of the gel, the data is more accurate, Andrews says. “If you’re only seeing 20 to 30 percent of each protein, whatever you’re looking for is in that 70 percent that you can’t see.” In theory, he adds, the process is faster and should allow for the identification of thousands of proteins per hour.
Andrews’ pet project is the Michigan Proteome Consortium, a public-private cooperative effort linking the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, and the Van Andel Research Institute to give more researchers access to the best proteomics technologies. The five-year program targets bioinformatics, structural genomics, and proteomics, among others. Andrews is the overall consortium director, and his UMich lab is working with several other labs across the state. “We are attempting to operate as if we’re one single unit,” he says — researchers use technologies such as videoconferencing to coordinate their work. The pilot project for the consortium is to complete an interaction map for every protein in a pathogen.
And as for the business cards, it’s not as strange as it sounds. “We took virtual gel images and used that as the background of the card, and printed them out on vellum on our laser printer,” Andrews explains.
— Meredith Salisbury