Lab+Life Scientist Jan 2014

Page 6

Susan Williamson

Professor Mark Baker has built a dynamic career in molecular cell proteomics and gives some insights into the Human Proteome Project, the thrills that proteins provide in life and why we need to stop and smell the roses.

L

Professor of Proteomics

ab+Life Scientist: How did you become

interested in studying science? Professor Mark Baker: I was the eldest in a family of seven Maroubra kids and my father died of a heart attack when I was 12. From then on I was interested in trying to find out why people died early and what was the mechanism behind disease. That has stayed with me ever since. LLS: What inspired you to focus on proteins? MB: I went to Macquarie University because it had molecular biology - I think it was the first place to teach it in Australia. I ended up doing an honours degree and a PhD there on proteins and free radical biochemistry with the ‘guru’, Professor Jan Gebicki. Jan taught third-year biochemistry and I became very wrapped up in his course. We had to randomly pick an enzyme ‘out of the hat’ to purify and I picked Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD), which had only been discovered the year before by a young guy called Joe McCord. After that I was well and truly into proteins and free radicals. Subsequent postdocs gave me the opportunity to start looking for protein oxidation products in vivo and that was what I really got interested in - the pathology of disease and mapping free radical damage in pathological tissues: the signatures of disease. I was pretty lucky to draw that SOD out of a hat. LLS: Being ill led you to change direction in your research? MB: Yes - I contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome after the flu, which left me paralysed for six months. While I was sick I read about Jessie Bradman, Donald Bradman’s wife, passing away from cancer. This inspired me to switch from colon and breast cancer research to ovarian cancer, primarily because of its lethality. At the time I was working at the University of Wollongong and they couldn’t support the work

6 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - January 2015

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