Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden, Germany
A decade ago, if you asked Andrej Shevchenko his opinion on lipids, his answer would not be too flattering. “I was a 100 percent protein guy,” he says, “and, as an analytical protein chemist, lipids were synonyms for trouble. Whenever I saw mass spectra that didn’t look right, I suspected that the scientists did not delipidate their samples fully.”
However, over the past few years, Shevchenko, a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, one of the newest of the 80 research institutes set up by the Max Planck Society, has come around. Lipids are no longer just greasy and cloudy contaminants or solvents for hydrophobic proteins; they’re integral biological molecules that warrant their own study.
So, while he continues to work on protein analysis, for example, identifying protein interaction networks in yeast or developing programs that can characterize the proteomes of organisms that are related very distantly to organisms with sequenced genomes, Shevchenko has begun to apply his skills to better quantify the lipid composition of various organelles, cells and tissues.
And, at the MPI-CBG, Shevchenko has found an ideal home to pursue these ideas. Surrounded by top-level cell biologists and an environment that encourages exploratory research, Shevchenko continually is moving from one exciting project to the next, adding his analytical mind to various collaborative efforts.
Born and educated in Russia, Shevchenko developed strong interests in both organic chemistry and analytical chemistry in school and gravitated naturally toward mass spectrometry analysis. In 1994, he moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, first, as a visiting scientist with noted proteomicist Matthias Mann, and, later as a staff scientist.
“However, they don’t have tenured appointments at the EMBL, so after a few years, I had to move on,” he notes. Fortunately, at that time, Max Planck was setting up their new CBG campus in the former East German city of Dresden, and several of Shevchenko’s former EMBL colleagues were slated to join. “And, they asked if I would be interested to come with them and set up a bioanalytics lab,” he says.
Shevchenko notes one of his big fears was that he would end up doing proteomic analysis of a primarily technical or service nature, which would eventually become boring; however, given this invitation by scientists he knew and respected, his decision was a “no-brainer.”
Situated near Germany’s border with the Czech Republic and Poland, the MPI-CBG is a highly interactive and dynamic institute that hosts scientists of more than 35 nationalities, and, with that broad diversity and the fact that all institute meetings and seminars are held in English— “or what we believe to be English,” Shevchenko says jokingly— one may sometimes forget where they are.