Professor Grininger, you and your colleague Professor Helge Bode have been the spokespersons for the new LOEWE Cluster entitled MegaSyn since January 2017. What goals do you want to achieve by 2020? First of all, I need to provide some information to explain what our goals are. Many drugs that are used at this time are produced in nature by fungi and bacteria. We now want to demonstrate that these naturally occurring synthesis pathways can be tailored to produce substances such as new antibiotics in a simple and environmentally-friendly way. My motivation for applying for LOEWE funding was mainly the prospect of being able to work on such a forward-looking, scientific topic in conjunction with other colleagues for a period of four years - and we are well on track: our aim has been to establish a very visible research cluster using this research approach by 2020.
In 2012, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper wrote an article about you entitled "Just missed out on the Nobel Prize" - is that true? It is good to have the opportunity to clarify matters. In conversation with the journalist, we actually discussed a situation where an academic managed to produce and publish important results on something, into which I was also conducting research at the same time – but he did so faster than me. He later received the Nobel Prize - but not because of this specific work, but because of many important contributions to research into protein synthesis ... So, the headline was simply misleading. I would never have approved the article in that form.
During your research work with your colleagues and your research group, you succeeded in making what is possibly a revolutionary breakthrough at the beginning of this year. What does it involve in specific terms? Working with other colleagues, we managed to change the function of the enzyme that is responsible for the synthesis of fatty acids. This enzyme, known as FAS, normally produces fatty acids of a very specific length. We modified FAS in such a way that it can produce shorter fatty acids. It sounds simple, but it specifically means that we have caused FAS to measure the length of fatty acids "incorrectly", so that fatty acids that are too short are produced by the system. We introduced this kind of modified FAS into yeasts that are also used for brewing beer. Yeast cannot do anything with these fatty acids in the cell and discharges them. This is interesting for many reasons, e.g. so that we could be able to produce biofuel by fermentation in future.
You originally come from Linz, spent most of your study time in Austria and Munich, where you wrote your PhD thesis at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, and - after spending time at other places – Frankfurt has been your home base since 2012. Why the banking metropolis of all places? I was already cooperating with research groups in Frankfurt when I was in Munich. The most important step in my career was the funding provided by the Volkswagen Foundation. Thanks to this and the support from the Goethe University, I was then able to set up a working group in Frankfurt. By the way, life in Frankfurt is excellent and the city does not need to feel inferior to Munich or Vienna. However, there is not enough snow for me.
About the Person
- One of the two spokesmen of the LOEWE Cluster MegaSyn
- Lichtenberg Professor of the Volkswagen Foundation
- Head of the research Group "biomolecular chemistry"
- Deputy Director of the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (BMLS)