Ingrid Lieten, Flemish Minister of Innovation, recruits top scientist Peter Tompa to VIB and Vrije Universiteit Brussel

13 May 2011

On Wednesday, 11 May 2011, minister Ingrid Lieten, Flemish Minister of Innovation and Deputy Prime Minister, has presented Peter Tompa as the successor of Lode Wyns as Director of the VIB Department of Structural Biology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Tompa is one of the scientists who founded the field of intrinsically disordered proteins, overturning the dogma that proteins need a fixed three-dimensional structure to function. Instead, say these scientists, many proteins actually require disorder to complete their tasks.

Universities and scientific institutes worldwide are engaged in a continuous battle for scientific talent - not unlike transfers in the world of sport. Scientific institutes can compete internationally only by creating the strongest possible teams. This competition is about scientific discoveries and publications but also about starting up new companies and establishing collaboration with existing ones. Strong, competitive scientific institutions are therefore of vital importance in developing the knowledge economy.
After a number of successful Flemish scientists have been tempted back to Flemish institutions (reverse brain drain), the next stage has begun. Foreign top scientists have now also found their way to Flanders' scientific institutions.
Minister Lieten, VIB and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel are therefore extremely proud that Peter Tompa has decided to further develop his career in Flanders. It proves that Flanders has built up a strong scientific reputation abroad.
Peter Tompa has worked at the Institute of Enzymology (Hungary), the Weissman Institute (Israel), ECUST University (China), Tokyo University (Japan), St. Jude Children’s Hospital (US) and the Universidad Autonoma (Spain).

Through his work on intrinsically disordered proteins, Tompa has completely overturned the dogma in biology that the structure of a protein determines its function. This appears to be only partly true. Instead, in over a third of all proteins, it is the exactly the lack of structure that is crucial for their action. These disordered proteins actually turn out to be very flexible and inside the cell serve as a hinge, a foldable key, a grabber, etc.

Proteins are the main building blocks of all life. They are the arms, legs, feet, mouth, eyes and ears of our cells. DNA, the best known molecule in biology, is so important because it contains the information to make proteins. The fact that the cells in our body differ from one another is mainly due to the different mixes of proteins of which they are composed.

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Peter Tompa
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