Varun Gadkari joins chemistry faculty

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/10/2022)—In Summer 2022, the Department of Chemistry will welcome Dr. Varun Gadkari as an Assistant Professor.

Gadkari was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to Ohio when he was 6. He grew up in Columbus, where high school AP chemistry ignited his passion for science. Studying biochemistry at The Ohio State University, he learned that he enjoyed figuring out why things were happening on a physiological level. His courses, along with his work on tuberculosis pathogenesis as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Jordi Torrelles’ laboratory, motivated him to a career focused on exploring the biomolecular mechanisms underlying human disease.

After graduating in 2012 with his Bachelor of Science degree, Gadkari joined the Ohio State Biochemistry Program to pursue his graduate studies in the laboratory of Prof. Zucai Suo, where he used biochemical and biophysical approaches to characterize DNA Replication/Repair proteins. Upon completing his doctorate in 2017, Gadkari pursued postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Prof. Brandon Ruotolo at the University of Michigan, where he currently develops native mass spectrometry methods for gas phase structural biology, with a focus on characterizing protein complexes, amyloidogenic proteins, and nucleic acids. He was selected by the American Society for Mass Spectrometry as an Emerging Talent in Academia in 2020.

The combination of a traditional biochemistry background with postdoctoral experience in analytical chemistry has given Gadkari a well-rounded academic career that allows him to bring together two different sub-fields in his research. This training in diverse fields has also contributed to Gadkari’s approach to mentoring the next generation of scientists. He is passionate about preparing students and trainees in a well-rounded way to set them up for success no matter what their future plans may be, and supporting them as they pursue their individual goals.

At UMN, the Gadkari Research Group will seek to bridge the gap between analytical and biological chemistry to develop methods and techniques to make previously inaccessible biomolecular structural measurements of natively prepared nucleic acids, proteins, and their complexes.

In typical protein mass spectrometry experiments, a sample is analyzed piecewise. While this is useful for protein sequencing, the comparatively newer field of native mass spectrometry allows scientists to study proteins with their original structures intact. This makes it possible to measure very transient interactions with other molecules and analyze how those biomolecular interactions or structures are perturbed in disease-associated states.

The Gadkari Research Group will be particularly focused on studying these biomolecules in the context of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease, for which there are no known cures. One area of planned research is on certain proteins that are involved in amyloid formation, a key feature of many neurodegenerative diseases. Native mass spectrometry can capture the multiple protein complexes forming simultaneously, and the many smaller interactions playing a role en route to amyloid formation. In addition to amyloid research, the group’s work will also explore the roles of nucleic acids in neurodegenerative diseases, with the hope of identifying new targets for therapeutic intervention. Every bit of information that can be gathered about these systems can inform drug discovery, providing potential new therapeutic benefits and symptom relief for patients.

Gadkari says he was drawn to the high caliber of the UMN Department of Chemistry and is looking forward to collaborating with faculty in the department and across the University. He and his wife Tracy are also excited to make the Twin Cities their new home. They are eager to explore the unique neighborhoods and discover the myriad coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries the area has to offer. They are also looking forward to exploring the parks and trails with their very active dog. They are excited to experience all that the Twin Cities have to offer.