discoveries you make aren't necessarily what you were looking for
in the first place. It's simply serendipity."
Paul Boyer was a brand-new graduate student in biochemistry at the
University of Wisconsin, dairy cattle and their reproductive problems
were much on researchers' minds in the great cheese state. So the
young graduate student was put to work investigating why a deficiency
in vitamin E caused sterility in animals. What Boyer discovered
in his study of enzymes and metabolism didn't boost Wisconsin's
herd, but turned out to illuminate one of nature's most tantalizing
enigmas -- and, as it happened, to earn Boyer the 1997 Nobel Prize
illustrates what often happens in science," says Boyer, now 79 and
a UCLA professor since 1963. "The discoveries you make aren't necessarily
what you were looking for in the first place. It's simply serendipity.
And I have a tendency to be lucky."
luck, as they say, is the residue of design. Boyer's dogged persistence
through more than half a century spent in the lab finally paid off
when he untangled a Gordian knot that had stymied scientists for
decades. His landmark achievement: an understanding of how cells
create and distribute ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the ubiquitous
substance that provides energy for all living organisms, from bacteria
several decades, the biochemist discovered the intricate mechanism
by which various subunits of the ATP enzyme work together in an
extraordinary way -- like rotating gears, levers and ratchets --
to generate energy within a cell. This energy is stored by the ATP
molecule in a form that cells can use for brain and nerve function
and muscle contraction, among other critical processes.