Paul Boyer and ATP synthase

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BillTre
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Paul D. Boyer a 1997 Nobel Prize winner, recently died. He was 99 years old.
Among other things, he did important work on one of the most interesting and important of cellular enzymes, ATP synthase.

ATP synthase is important since it is central to the cell's production of ATP which powers a large proportion of cellular metabolism.
The ATP synthase is:
  • conserved among all cellular life (indicating it was inherited from the Last Universal Common Ancestor and arose very early in life)
  • large and has an extremely complex structure
  • and runs on differences in proton (H+) concentrations across the cellular (or mitochondrial) membrane.
Its passes a proton from one side of the membrane into a rotating protein ring embedded in the cell membrane which causes the ring to rotate with respect to an outer non-rotating protein ring before the proton is released on the other side of the membrane. It can rotate at hundreds of revolutions per second. Its structure/function has lead people to compare it to a turbine.
The ring rotation in turn rotates an non-symmetrical axle the in turn bonks a ring of non-rotating ATPase enzymes, changing their conformation as it goes around and catalyzing ADP plus Pi to form ATP.
It can also be driven in reverse (pumping protons) by high ATP concentrations.

This stuff was not yet taught when I took biochemistry. I only found out about ATP synthase structure and function recently. Its complexity and early evolutionary origin are remarkable.

Here is a link to a recent high resolution analysis of ATP synthase (probably pay-walled).
 

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TeethWhitener
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Jens Christian Skou (with whom Boyer shared the Nobel) also passed away less than 2 weeks ago. Crazy. Edit: Skou was also 99 years old!
 
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Ygggdrasil
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Boyer was faculty at my alma matter (UCLA), and I used to work in the institute he founded (the Molecular Biology Institute) in the building named after him (Boyer Hall). ATP synthase is such an amazing enzyme, and his work will always live on as a part of biology textbooks that helps inspire students like me to look into the fascinating worlds of molecular biology, biochemistry and biophysics.
 
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BillTre
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Here is a nice little video on how the ATP synthase works:
 

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