Proteomics may have lost some converts in the business world, but it seems academics are still flooding the gates. Take Ed Dratz, for example. The 62- year-old Montana State University scientist, trained as a structural biologist, has taken up proteomics as a second career. This summer he’ll embark on a year-long sabbatical to visit with researchers setting up a proteomics center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, led by physiologist Andrew Greene, and stop through the labs of Greene’s collaborators at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Dratz says he spent most of his academic career at MSU’s main campus in Bozeman studying rhodopsin, a protein found in retinas often cited as the archetype of a signaling system in biology. But for studying just one protein, he says, “35 years is an awful long time.” Dratz says he’s dabbled in protein mass spectrometry for almost a decade, but in the last few years he started playing around with 2D gel electrophoresis as a way of taking a more global look at signal transduction, leading him into the more youthful field of proteomics.
At the Medical College of Wisconsin, where Greene is the principal investigator on a $15.6 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to develop a proteomics technology center, Dratz says he hopes to participate in the planning and design of the laboratory as a way of becoming more familiar with various proteomics techniques and instrumentation. Dratz also plans to spend time with David Muddiman at the Mayo Clinic learning the intricacies of separating and identifying proteins by liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry, a capability Dratz also wants to perfect in his own lab.
Upon his return to Bozeman in the summer of 2004, Dratz plans to build on his current work improving protein recovery and developing more sensitive 2D gel systems for studying proteins isolated from hypothermophilic bacteria. In addition to more thoroughly incorporating techniques such as LC/MS/MS protein analysis into his lab, Dratz wants to carry forward his ideas on designing multiplexed 2D gel analyses that compare more than two samples on the same gel. Ultimately, he hopes his acquired experience in proteomics will help invigorate the university in general, where at least nine other researchers are also starting to play around with proteomics tools. “There are always pros and cons [to a sabbatical],” Dratz says. “I’ll be in communication with people in the lab, but it allows you to get out of the routine things that tend to soak up a lot of your time, and you get to take a fresh look at things.”
— John S. MacNeil