Written by Nóra Lehotai and André Mateus.
André Mateus joined Umeå University in the beginning of February 2022 as a newly recruited assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry, and he is also appointed as MIMS Team Leader. His expertise in proteomics is an exciting new addition to the Umeå protein research community.
Photo: André Mateus. Credit: Christine Wegler.
Biology+chemistry = biochemistry = love for science
“I was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, and I am a pharmacist by training.”
One day, André’s dad asked him the big question: “Do you really want to be a pharmacist for the rest of your life?”, and André said no.
“During my undergrad, I did a few projects in different labs and I fell in love with science. It is exciting to discover new things which literally no one else in the world has done before. I studied pharmacy because I didn’t get into the medicine program to become a surgeon, which was my original idea, but I didn’t have high enough grades.”
It was when he studied pharmacy that during the first biochemistry lecture, André fell in love with the topic.
“I always liked natural sciences like chemistry and biology. When I realized that biochemistry is the combination of these, I immediately loved it, I was just very fascinated by it.”
Later, he got into pharmacokinetics, studying what happens to drugs in the body, and this led him to his PhD topic.
The road to take: Portugal, Sweden, Germany, Sweden
André moved to Uppsala in 2011 to start his PhD studies in Per Artursson’s lab on developing a method to measure intracellular drug concentrations.
“This is an important parameter for drugs that act inside the cells because you need to know how much of the drug actually reaches the target. A drug can bind very tightly to the target but if it never reaches it, then it will never be effective.”
In 2017, he moved to Heidelberg to join the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) to do his postdoc term in the labs of Mikhail Savitski and Nassos Typas. There, his goal was to adapt a technique that Mikhail had developed during his time at Cellzome, a spin-off company of EMBL, located on-site.
“The technique is called thermal proteome profiling and my goal was to move this technique to bacteria. This method measures protein thermal stability, basically how proteins melt inside the cells. If you heat up an egg, you can see that the egg white denatures and aggregates, and what this method uses is the same principle. We measure the temperature at which this occurs inside of the cell for every protein and this temperature will change, depending on the interactions of each protein, André explains.”
If something is bound to a protein, it can shift this “melting” temperature. For example, if a drug is bound to a protein, it shifts and because of this, you can identify drug targets. When treating cells with the drug, you see which proteins are shifted, and those are the targets of the drug. This method was initially used to identify drug targets but as André explains, it can be used for other purposes:
“We realized that we could connect it to biology, such as what proteins do and which proteins they interact with. I have used this method during my postdoc in several model organisms, particularly in E. coli. I will use not only thermal proteome profiling but also other approaches to study gut microbiome bacteria in Umeå. They are extremely understudied; the roles of more than half of protein-coding genes in these species are unknown. I want to use different methods to study what kind of proteins are present in the gut, what are they doing and who are they interacting with.”
Moving to Umeå and André’s vision for his research
To answer the question “Why Umeå?”, André says: “I did my PhD in Uppsala. I really liked Sweden, and I was looking forward to returning.”
He also thought that the position available in Umeå, was ideal.
“I took on a tenure-track assistant professor position at the Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Chemistry. I am bringing in the proteomics prospect to this position, and I hope to be able to collaborate with a lot of people. Also, being part of the MIMS community as a new team leader makes it a very exciting new period. I felt extremely welcomed and everyone is introducing me to everyone, showing me instruments that I can use and rapidly expanding my network.”
André says that his expertise is always available to others and the instrumentation he brings in, can be available via collaborative projects. The long-term idea is to re-open the proteomics facility in Umeå, and his group could be of help in the planning.
“The group is just starting. At the moment, it is only me in the group, but we have just recruited the senior research engineer who will be responsible for the maintenance of our analytical park (mass spectrometer and liquid chromatography). My funding allows me to set up my lab for my research purposes. The mass spec will arrive sometime in March and hopefully, before the summer, it is up and running under the management of the newly recruited senior research engineer. My funding also allows me to hire a PhD student and a postdoc. I am also looking forward to teaching, since it is part of my duties as an assistant professor.”
When I ask André about what he would like to achieve during the next 6 years while on tenure-track, he says:
“I would like to show that I am an independent researcher. I can carry out research and secure funding, have my first PhD student graduating.”
He also hopes that by showing the potential of proteomics, it will create an interest and will attract a joint approach in Umeå, enabling raising funding for more equipment and personnel.
Bringing in the EMBL model for helping a facility as a researcher
“I would like to continue pursuing my own research in the future however, I can imagine being involved in managing a future proteomics facility. At EMBL, Mikhail Savitski, manages both his research group and the facility, but has the support of multiple talented researchers to deal with the day-to-day running of the facility and instruments.”
This frees up the members of the research group to focus on their research and not spending time in instrument maintenance. It is more effective if there are dedicated people taking care of the machines and not, for example, a PhD student, who has limited amount of time. The researchers of the facility have experience with all kinds of problems and know how to solve them, as well as having tight connections with service.
Free time activities, entangled with science
André likes running and fermenting things, baking bread.
“I am starting now kombucha and looking forward to brewing beer. I enjoy gardening and being out in nature. I am looking forward to winter sports, try out cross country skiing.”
He explains that he is never fully disconnected from science.
“I love science so for me, reading a paper in my free time, it is not a job, it is fun. I feel that it is ridiculous that this is my job because it is so much fun!”
Photo: A few of André’s fermentation projects, including the new kombucha and his old sourdough. The sourdough culture was started by Magnus Ölander (now a postdoc in Barbara Sixt’s lab) and given to André back in 2014 when they were both PhD students at Uppsala University. Private picture of André Mateus.
André recently received the Karl Freundenberg Prize for his work "The functional proteome landscape of Escherichia coli". Read the related article here: https://www.mims.umu.se/news-events/2085-andre-mateus-mims-team-leader-awarded-the-karl-freundenberg-prize.html
- Visit the website of Uppsala University: https://www.uu.se/en
- Visit the website of EMBL: https://www.embl.org/
- Learn more about Cellzome GMBH: https://www.biorn.org/member/Cellzome-GmbH%2C-a-GSK-company
- Visit the website of the Mateus lab: https://mateuslab.com/
- Read the MIMS Spotlight Series interview with Magnus Ölander: https://www.mims.umu.se/news-events/2061-world-antimicrobial-awareness-week-mims-spotlight-series-meet-magnus-oelander.html