|Bertini with Harry Gray at Caltech (Image: NSMB)|
Bertini made very important contributions to the NMR structure elucidation of metalloproteins and solved more than 150 structures during a distinguished career that was cut short, an unprecedented record. Before his work, NMR of paramagnetic proteins was thought to be exceedingly difficult because of paramagnetic relaxation; this is the same reason why oxygen in an NMR sample precludes the acquisition of good data for NOE experiments, requiring the sample to be purged with nitrogen.
An obituary in Nature Chemical Biology (paywall) gives a good sense of both the man and his characteristically bold approach to science:
One could not avoid knowing Ivano: he was 'loud' in all senses. In a room full of people, his booming voice would always tell if he was around. He was also tall and large and would speak loudly to the heart of any new acquaintance, making himself unforgettable. He also had a loud love for science. In his office, he had a banner that said, “La scienza è come l'amore: non puoi non pensarci sempre” (Science is like love: you can't help thinking about it all the time)...
The story of the first solution structure of a paramagnetic protein is a typical example of Ivano's response to scientific challenges. In the early nineties, about ten years after the first protein NMR structure, it was implicit that paramagnetic relaxation prevented NMR analysis of paramagnetic proteins.
On a midsummer Sunday at Ivano's country house, however, we were reading a recent review article by a well-known NMR spectroscopist that explicitly stated it would never be possible to solve NMR structures of paramagnetic proteins. Ivano said, “Do you believe it?” We said, “No.” He then said, “This is a project that will need the whole lab.” The next day, we were all at work; the paper was published 14 months later. With that work, a taboo had been broken, and many structures of paramagnetic proteins have been solved since then.
Metalloproteins continue to be of intense interest in chemistry, biology and medicine and we will all continue to benefit from Bertini's legacy.