Our veteran account manager, Chuck Luke, has witnessed first-hand the development of protein crystallography. Here he shares his thoughts and experiences over the last 30 years in the industry.
Tell us how you first got involved in the protein crystallography industry?
I became involved in crystallography in the early 1960s because I was a part of the supply community to laboratories as president of a small company called Mallinckrodt; who produced HPLC solvents. Prior to that I was selling high purity chemicals to labs.
Chuck Luke (pictured left) with colleague David Smith at the crystallography UGM in May.
As we evolved as a company, we identified crystallography (nearly all chemical crystallography back in those days) as a niche market and began to focus on it more and more. We were bringing in pipetters at that time and we realised that the early protein crystallography labs such as those run by Harker at Buffalo and Wyckoff & Richards over at Yale needed these and all kinds of supplies to go with them. - You have to remember that around that time when Perutz and Kendrew were doing the early protein structures, even things like SDS-Page and some biological buffers were relatively new to labs. Ultimately I ended up in the protein crystallography space because the people I met were great and I realised I could deliver real value to the bench scientists.
What is it about crystallography that keeps you going and enables you to still enjoy being part of the community?
What I enjoy most is working with all the labs that still pipette by hand and over many years I have made friends in lots of labs all over the US, Canada and South America... I feel inspired and grow when I introduce an individual who knows nothing about TTP Labtech to our technology and see how surprised and delighted they are when they realise how it can help them day to day in the lab.
What techniques, moments or advances in the industry have made you think ‘Wow!’ during your career
To me, in the early 2000’s when drop-setters and positive displacement emerged; and were good enough to really increase the throughput of crystallization labs – The ‘rise of the machines’ meant that precise automated liquid handling made the lives of those in the lab considerably easier and really fed into the whole era of structural genomics, which drove huge advances in automation in many aspects of the workflow. crystallography started to become one of the most important disciplines for many branches of science, especially for chemistry, biology and biomedicine.
X-ray crystallography currently plays an important role in structural biology, but as cryo-EM comes into the frame, will it become a dying art?
One of the greatest advantages of cryo-EM relative to conventional structural biology techniques is its ability to analyze large, complex and flexible structures. These are very challenging to crystallize for use in X-ray crystallography or are too large and complex. I may be the only man on the planet that thinks there will still be a place for conventional crystallography. And, in many ways, cryo-EM is allowing people to go back and tackle some of the projects that perhaps failed in the past, which has to be a good thing for us all. We all want the structures that give us the answers to take us forward.
Tell us one thing you’ve seen or experienced over the years working in the field that would make us smile?
It always makes me smile when people come up to me at a conference not knowing who TTP Labtech are and what we represent, but then discover during the conversation they’ve been using one of our mosquito instruments for years and not actually made the connection.
Chuck Luke (pictured far right) and the TTP Labtech team at ACA 2018
What one thing do you wish other people knew about TTP Labtech?
Unlike many other companies out there, we have an amazing applications team dedicated to helping customers develop protocols they can use on their specific projects. - The relationship with us continues long after purchase and that’s the way it should be.
When you’re not out visiting labs what do you most enjoying doing?
Helping out with church events and spending time on my boat fishing and scuba diving. Being out on the ocean in the boat just gives me a bit of a break.
What are you looking forward to this year?
The launch of mosquito® Xtal3 – it’s going to be so accessible for so many labs and really speed up the research for the those that perhaps don’t have a whole lot of budget.
OK, so given the answer to the previous question, most people would probably have chosen a boat friendly holiday destination for their answer to the last… But Chuck’s excitement about new technology and how it can help those in the lab is infectious! And since he is genuinely interested in researchers and what will help them push their research further and make their lives easier, it’s not surprising he’s been so successful in making so many life-long friends and contacts in the industry. Chuck will be at this event later this year:
- Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference, Cleveland (OH) USA, 14-16 October 2018
Please drop by the booth and say ‘hi’ – though if the new mosquito® Xtal3 is there, Chuck may even give you a demo!