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Paul proposed was a bold idea," observes Arnold Berk, director of
the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute that Boyer founded in 1965.
"He said the ATP synthase, the enzyme that produces ATP, works with
a rotary mechanism, much like a windmill, that captures energy from
the flow of protons to fuel the batteries of the cell, the mitochondria,
by turning the mechanism and ratcheting it around."
novel proposal raised many an eyebrow. Papers were published refuting
his rotation theory. Some graduate students on his own research
team thought he had gone a bit too far and told him so. "It was
a strikingly different concept of enzyme action," Boyer admits.
"They were never known to act this way. But when I looked at the
data, the only logical explanation I could come up with was rotation.
It was frankly so beautiful and so logical that before we even had
all the evidence, I had the feeling it was going to be correct."
Boyer's series of breakthroughs on ATP, further discoveries by a
colleague and co-winner of the Nobel, Cambridge University's John
E. Walker, have proved the farsightedness of the UCLA scientist's
vision. And just last spring, a team of Japanese scientists using
advanced techniques filmed for the first time the ATP enzyme in
its strange, whirling dance.
you saw was this little fuzzy white thing moving around," says Boyer,
who hopes to use part of his prize money to help the postdoctoral
students he credits with doing much of the grunt work in basic science.
"But to me -- the gratification I felt when I saw this was so deep.
I thought of all the wonderful people I've worked with in the lab
all those years. It was very satisfying."
When Paul Boyer receives his Nobel medal from King Carl XVI Gustaf
of Sweden December 10, he'll be accompanied by 18 family members,
including his grandson, Imran Clark, a UCLA graduate student at
the Molecular Biology Institute.