2012 Beckman Coulter Discovery Science Award: Marc Wilkins

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales

Marc Wilkins invented the concept of the proteome and coined the term in 1994, whilst a PhD student in the lab of Keith Williams at Macquarie University. With colleagues, Marc contributed a series of seminal papers that showed how a series of technological advances could be merged to underpin the emerging field of proteomics. In 1997, while a postdoc in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, working with Denis Hochstrasser, Marc co-edited and co-authored the first book for the proteomics field. In 1999, Marc co-founded the company Proteome Systems with Keith Williams and four others, and worked full-time with that enterprise for six years. In Proteome Systems, he was responsible for the prototyping of BioinformatIQ, a software platform for the integration and analysis of proteomic data, which was later commercialised as part of a strategic alliance with IBM. In 2005, Marc returned to academia as Professor of Systems Biology at UNSW. In 2008, he established the NSW Systems Biology Initiative, a research group with a focus on molecular systems biology.

A theme of Marc’s work has been to combine new analytical technology and bioinformatics, thus opening new avenues for biological investigation. Significant contributions have included high-throughput means to identify proteins, novel approaches to discover post-translational modifications and statistical approaches for the analysis of proteomic expression data. These approaches were applied over a 10-year period to protein profiling and biomarker discovery projects.

Recently, Marc’s research has focused on the dynamics of protein interaction networks and, specifically, the role of protein methylation in the regulation of protein-protein interactions. Knockouts and methylation site mapping have allowed a methyltransferase-substrate network to be built; this has shown that lysine methyltransferases modify specific amino acids in one or two substrate proteins yet arginine methyltransferases act on a wide spectrum of substrates. A conditional two-hybrid system, built to measure the effect of methylation on protein-protein interactions, has shown that protein methylation can act as a switch to control protein-protein interactions. This two-hybrid system is currently being used to investigate the degree to which methylation is used globally for this purpose.