Conversations with Lipid Leaders: Dr. Felix Goni

Posted on April 26, 2021

Felix Goni

Tell us a little bit about yourself (current role, background, family, etc.)

I work at the University of the Basque Country, in Bilbao, Spain, where I have been a Professor of Biochemistry for the last 35 years. I am a group leader at Instituto Biofisika, jointly run by the Spanish National Research Center (CSIC) and the University. I was born in San Sebastian, Basque Country, in 1951. I went to Medical School in Navarra, then post-doc in London, Royal Free Hospital, under Dennis Chapman, then Bilbao. At the end of August I will get age retirement (compulsory in Spain), but I might still go on for a while as an Emeritus Professor, we’ll see. I am married to Alicia Alonso, a distinguished membrane biophysicist, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.

What do you consider the largest breakthrough in lipid research in recent years?

The application of mass spectrometric techniques to the study of lipid compositions (lipidomics).

Did you always envision yourself becoming a scientist? If not, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who influenced you to become a scientist?

I was the first in the family to go to college. I went to Medical School without any real knowledge of what Medicine was all about. Fortunately, I found Biochemistry, and then Biophysics, on my way. Professor J.M. Macarulla, an inspirational teacher at Navarra, opened my eyes to Biochemistry. Professor N. van Uden, at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science (Oeiras, Portugal), enrolled me in the Biophysics boat.

What caught your interest and motivated you to get involved in the research of membrane lipids and lipid-protein interactions?

My doctoral thesis dealt with mitochondrial lipids, meanwhile a summer course at Oeiras, under Professor J. de Gier (Utrecht), made me think of lipids in membranes, rather than just molecules in a test tube.

In one of your recent works (2019), your group tested the solubilization of lipid vesicles made of phosphatidylcholine by various detergents. The detergents were then classified as “slow” or “fast” solubilizing detergents. What are the implications of using either a “slow” or “fast” solubilizing detergent when using them for research such as membrane protein crystallization?

It is very unfortunate that we still lack a predictive method for applying a given detergent to solubilize a given protein. Detergents have been in my focus of interest, if only as a side activity, for over 40 years. I have produced many papers on surfactants, but achieved little knowledge. This is science, you know.

I hear that you sing beautifully and that you are a master pyrotechnic. Unfortunately, we can’t hear you sing through this questionnaire, but what genre of music is your favorite to listen to and sing?

My favorites to sing are Schubert and Fauré. My favorite to listen to nowadays is J.S. Bach.

What kind of pyrotechnics do you experiment with? How did you get involved with this hobby?

I am interested in getting better and safer colors. I got involved in this like any other child, only the interest did not fade away. On the contrary, in my young(er) age I ran a small firework manufacturing and display company.

What was your favorite and least favorite course in school? What was the hardest course for you while you were in school?

I don’t think I had a clear favorite among subjects, I had favorite teachers instead (and others that I hated, of course). The hardest course for me was Drawing. I was awful at it, but I was given pass marks because I got A’s in the other subjects.

Do you have a favorite Avanti product or category of products? Maybe a product that you’ve found most helpful in your research?

My favorite lipid molecules these days are ceramides. So, I benefit from the extensive list of ceramides, sphingomyelins and related sphingolipids in the Avanti catalog. Although not exactly Avanti products, I have always found enormously helpful Walt and Rowena.

We would like to thank Dr. Felix Goni for taking time to catch up with us!

Click HERE to learn even more about his exciting research!