Mount Vernon Nazarene University: Life Changing


Paul D. Boyer

Paul D. Boyer was born on July 31, 1918 in Provo, Utah. His early interest in science was kindled by a chemistry set he received as a Christmas gift. He received a B.S. in chemistry from Brigham Young University (1939), and M.S. (1941) and Ph.D. (1943) degrees in biochemistry from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at Stanford (1943-1945), at U of Minnesota (1945-1963), and then at UCLA until his retirement in 1989.

Boyer shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with John Walker (of England) and Jens Skou (of Denmark). The three were recognized for their pioneering work on enzymes that store and utilize chemical energy.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy-rich molecule that is found in all living organisms. Removing the outer phosphate group converts ATP to ADP, and releases chemical energy that can be used for muscle contraction, neuronal transmission, or biosynthesis. Energy can be stored by adding phosphate to ADP, re-forming ATP. In most organisms, this reaction is catalyzed by ATP synthase.

Boyer has been studying ATP synthase since the 1970's, and he proposed a novel theory to explain the reaction's mechanism. In his model, protons that cross the mitochondrial membrane cause a wheel-like structure to spin, much like a stream turns a water wheel. This turns another portion of the enzyme that assembles ATP molecules like machines in a factory.

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