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21 May 2014

Protein & Peptide Science Group of the Royal Society of Chemistry – not just for academics

The Protein & Peptide Science Group (PPSG) of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is one of the main academic bodies promoting and supporting peptide science research in the UK. It was originally a special interest group of the RSC and called the ‘Peptide & Protein Group’ (proteins obviously weren’t as fashionable in those days) with a focus that was possibly more peptide chemistry than peptide biology. Then it took on its present name when it became a joint group of the RSC and the Biochemical Society, partly because proteins were becoming more interesting at the time and partly because it was more relevant to the core interests of Biochemical Society members. Since then the PPSG has reverted to being a special interest group of the RSC and receives IT support from the Biochemical Society. The name hasn’t changed though, which reflects the importance of peptides in their own right and in the study of protein science.


The main function of the PPSG has always been to organise meetings in the peptide sciences. In earlier times the main event was the biennial Spring Meeting of the group held at Gregynog Hall in Powys, the remotely located conference centre of the University of Wales. At the time, the accommodation there was best described as ‘spartan’, but the quality of the science always made up for this. The remote location was an advantage as well. Although getting there was difficult, once you were there for the weekend there was nothing to do except listen to good science, renew old friendships and make new ones. Being together for meals and in the bar in the evening meant that everyone mixed, from PhD students to eminent professors and this was a great way of getting to know people working in the field.


In more recent times, the PSSG has organised meetings associated with Biochemical Society as well as the RSC, but nowadays involvement of the Biochemical Society is largely to provide IT support for the Group through a page on the Society’s website.


One of the most popular meetings has been the one-day ‘Chemistry and Biology of Peptides’ meeting, which has been running for 8 years now. Generous sponsorship has allowed the organisers, Weng Chan (Nottingham), John Offer (NIMR) and Peter White (Merck Millipore) to run a meeting each year offering a full and varied programme of speakers, including at least one high profile overseas speaker without having to charge a registration fee. The keynote speaker at the 2013 meeting was Steve Kent of the University of Chicago – you can read a report of the meeting in Laurent Caron’s blog. In fact, Laurent has now joined the Organising Committee and the 9th Annual meeting will be held on July 17, 2014 at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill and online registration is now open.


The other regular meeting organised by the PPSG is the Early Stage Researcher Meeting, run by Alethea Tabor of UCL. This is intended to provide a forum for PhD students and young Post Docs to present their work, either as a poster or an oral presentation, in a supportive environment. There is a prize for the best poster and best oral presentation and the winner of the best oral presentation gets the chance to present their work at the next Chemistry and Biology of Peptides meeting. The meetings take place in November and, for the first three years, were held in the RSC Chemistry Centre, Burlington House, in central London. However, in November 2013 the meeting was held in Durham, where Steven Cobb was the local organiser and Cambridge Research Biochemicals provided sponsorship. Laurent Caron has written a report of that meeting in his blog. It is hoped that the meeting will alternate between London and venues outside London in the future.


The Medimmune Protein & Peptide Science Award is awarded by the PPSG in recognition of excellence in any area of protein and peptide science. The 2013 winner was Ed Tate of Imperial College, London. In addition to a £1,000 prize and certificate, the winner is expected to give a talk at a PPSG meeting in the following 12 months – usually the Early Stage Researcher Meeting, and Ed gave an excellent talk at the Durham meeting last November.


The PPSG is run by a committee chaired by Robin Leatherbarrow – formerly of Imperial College London, now Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Scholarship, Research and Knowledge Transfer at Liverpool John Moores University. The secretary is Kevin Howland, manager of the Biomolecular Science Facility of the University of Kent and the treasurer is Parvez Harris of De Montfort University, Leicester. CRB’s Laurent Caron has served on the committee for a number of years and I have been a member for the last couple of years, as the meetings I run under the Peptide Conferences name are held under the auspices of the PPSG.


As the field of peptide science is going through a period of revitalised growth, it is likely that the activities of the PPSG will grow and develop to match over the coming years. But what I think makes the PPSG so important in modern peptide science is that it is not just an academic group – certainly no ivory tower. When you realise how many industrial and commercial scientists there are helping to run the group as well as making up its membership, you can see just how well positioned the PPSG is to help grow and develop the whole field of peptide science in the UK and overseas.


Stephen Hoare, Owner / Principal at Peptide Conferences