The” Centre d’Ingénierie des Protéines” (CIP, Centre for Protein Engineering) was born in 1990 thanks to the fusion of the “Service de Microbiologie appliquée aux Sciences Pharmaceutiques” (Professor Jean-Marie Ghuysen, Faculty of Medicine), the “Laboratoire d’Enzymologie” (Professor Jean-Marie Frère, Faculty of Sciences) and the “Laboratoire de Cristallographie des Protéines” (Professor Otto Dideberg, Faculty of Sciences). These groups had already been collaborating for a number of years to study the bacterial cell wall metabolism and to analyze the mechanisms that enable bacteria to escape the action of antibiotics, especially those belonging to the beta-lactam family. The integration further supported more detailed understanding of the structures and activities of various proteins, particularly enzymes. Thus, as soon as 1982, the team had been the first in Belgium to determine the 3D structure of a protein.
Solution of many of the biological and medical problems rests on a profound knowledge of phenomena such as the control of gene expression, signal transmission, enzyme catalysis and many others in which proteins play major roles. As time passed, the expertise acquired thanks to the initial research topic was applied to an increasing number of subjects where an understanding of the relationships between the structures of proteins and their functions is fundamental. While protein chemistry and enzymology remain essential to the study of antibiotic resistance phenomena, they are now applied, among others, to the deciphering of induction pathways, of the properties of house dust mite allergens and of the principles that govern the folding of proteins and determine their stability, with special reference to the behavior of proteins produced by extremophiles and of those responsible for amyloid deposits in a series of diseases.
The initial expertise of the Centre in fundamental microbiology has not been lost, as shown by the development of important topics such as bacterial biodiversity and physiology. The Centre hosts the BCCM/ULC culture collection of cyanobacteria. Moreover, it should be remembered that the first enzymes isolated in the 70’s were those produced by members of the Actinomycetes family, and these bacteria remain a fruitful research area.
Finally, two technical platforms are devoted to the production and purification of proteins (Protein Factory) and to the analysis of their chemical, enzymatic and physical properties (Robotein). These platforms offer their services to the University community and to the industrial world.