“You make proteins, right? Could you maybe…” Questions that start like this have been part of Dr. Anja Schütz’s daily work ever since May 2018, when she became head of the MDC’s Protein Production and Characterization Platform. When asked what excites her most about her new role, she doesn’t need long to think: “The variety!” she says. “We’ve worked with 45 research groups so far, which means we’re involved in an incredibly wide range of topics.”
Schütz, a biochemist, earned her doctorate from Martin Luther University in Halle (Saale) in 2004. She then moved to the Structural Genomics Consortium in Toronto, where she analyzed disease-related proteins. In 2007, she was back in Germany and began setting up the Protein Sample Production Facility within Udo Heinemann’s research group and with support from the Helmholtz Association.
Word about the service – which most recently covered the entire structural biology pipeline from designing and cloning suitable constructs, to producing and biophysically characterizing proteins, to their structural determination – spread. Collaborations kept arising with research groups at the MDC and in Berlin who wanted to use the expertise on offer. When a survey conducted in fall 2017 asked, among other things, whether there was a need for a separate technology platform for protein production, the MDC researchers’ response was clear: Of course there is – and we need it for more than just structural biology!
Support from Udo Heinemann
The portfolio that Anja Schütz and her two technical assistants now offer from their base in the Timofeeff-Ressovsky House is correspondingly wide-ranging and tailored to the needs of MDC researchers. “We mainly focus on custom-made proteins,” says Schütz. As well as producing tool proteins such as proteases, polymerases, and Cas9s for genome editing, she and her team also produce proteins for interaction, structural, and active-substance studies, and certain antigens for immunization. “We’ve just made our first antibody. That’s a new area for us,” says Schütz, who embraces new challenges because they allow her to keep developing the platform. She wants to collaborate with other platforms to advance the development of the technology and – eventually – set up a central collection of vectors, antibodies, and cell lines.
There was no guarantee that Schütz and her colleagues would be able to pursue new projects outside of structural biology as early as spring 2017. Yet her boss at the time, Udo Heinemann, supported them in establishing the platform. “I think very highly of him for that,” says Schütz. As a result, the platform transitioned seamlessly from Heinemann’s group to independence. Schütz is equally grateful to her hard-working technical assistants Janett Tischer and Tracy Dornblut. “The variety of methods that they have mastered is really something special,” says Schütz. “And now we’re all excited to see what’s in store for us next.”