Wolfgang Peti, a new associate editor at the Journal of Biological Chemistry, has a deep appreciation for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
By John Arnst | Published July 01 2017 | Photo credit: Olivia Mendoza
Wolfgang Peti, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, Tucson, joined the ranks of associate editors at the Journal of Biological Chemistry this spring. Peti, who recently moved to Tucson after 13 years at Brown University, spoke with John Arnst, ASBMB Today’s science writer, about his lab’s work and interest in NMR spectroscopy. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is your group focused on?
We are studying post-translational modification enzymes, especially phosphatases and kinases, to see how they become specific enzymes, how protein-protein interactions turn serine/threonine protein phosphatases into specific enzymes and how kinases are regulated to become specific enzymes. And why we are interested in doing that is to understand how we can find novel ways to regulate them for medical reasons.
NMR is kind of a unique thing, because you can look at a protein at atomic resolution basically in real time. I don’t know of any other technique that allows you to do that. Crystallography is great, and cryo-EM is great to look at atomic resolution, but you have to get a crystal and you have to solve the structure.
Here, we work in solution. We put it in a magnet, and we can record, very quickly, spectra that tell us immediately what is changing. We can, in real time, see how proteins are moving and changing, and for me that was always an exciting thing, because I thought it’s as close as possible to seeing proteins as they behave in a cell.
What is your background and research training?
I studied chemistry and a lot of physics at the University of Vienna in Austria, where I was born, and also got a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry synthesis but always was intrigued by doing a lot of spectroscopy. I knew I wanted to know more about NMR spectroscopy, so I did my Ph.D. with Christian Griesinger, who was at that time at the University of Frankfurt. I tried to develop new ways to look at the flexibility of proteins and protein dynamics using what was a new parameter at this point, residual dipolar couplings.
After that I moved to The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and was the first postdoc with Kurt Wüthrich, who had just joined Scripps at that time. I was there for about two and a half years and in 2004 began my first faculty position at Brown University.
There wasn’t much structural biology infrastructure at Brown before, and we built up a really nice facility. nce the facility was built up and working really well, I had the opportunity to leave for the University of Arizona, and since my wife is from Arizona, we decided that would be a great thing to do.
Did anything occur in a milestone sort of way that made you choose science as a career?
I was drawn to science, and I wanted to do more. I realized that chemistry bridges so many things so nicely, and I decided that chemistry’s really the most exciting thing I wanted to study. Anything else was never an option for me. I jumped into chemistry, and I never looked back.
What was your involvement with JBC prior to becoming an associate editor?
I published many papers with JBC. I had papers as a graduate student, as a postdoc and then as a faculty member. I always enjoyed publishing there, and at one point about four years ago I was asked to become an editorial board member. I was quite excited. It was a lot of fun, because you get papers that are close to your research, but you learn so many new things by looking at what other people are doing and really become a better scientist, I think.
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