NOBEL TO ATP RESEARCHERS
By Sean Henahan, Access Excellence
Sweden (October15, 1997)- Where would we be without ATP? Three chemists
whose work helped answer that question share this year's Nobel Prize in
Professor Paul D. Boyer, University of California, Los Angeles, USA,
and Dr. John E. Walker, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular
Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom were recognized for their elucidation
of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate
(ATP), along with Professor Jens C. Skou, Aarhus University, Denmark who
first discovered the ion-transporting enzyme, Na+, K+-ATPase.
"The three laureates have performed pioneering work on enzymes
that participate in the conversion of the "high energy" compound adenosine
triphosphate," notes the citation by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Adenosine is a nucleoside comprising adenine linked to D-ribose through
a beta-glycoside bond. Phosphorylated forms of adenosine (AMP, ADP, and
ATP) are the major compounds involved in energy transfer in biological
systems. ATP acts as an energy source for many cellular processes. Indeed,
an active cell needs about two million ATP molecules per second to function.
ATP serves as an energy transporter in all living organisms. The compound
captures the chemical energy released by the combustion of nutrients and
transfers it to reactions that require energy, e.g. the building up of
cell components, muscle contraction, transmission of nerve messages and
many other functions.
Drs. Boyer and Walker conducted fundamental research on how the enzyme
ATP synthase catalyses the formation of ATP. Boyer and
colleagues have proposed, on the basis of biochemical data, a mechanism
for how ATP is formed from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and inorganic phosphate.
Walker and his colleagues established the structure of the enzyme and verified
the mechanism proposed by Boyer.
Jens C. Skou receives half of the $1 million prize for his discovery
of the enzyme sodium, potassium-stimulated adenosine triphosphatase (Na+,
K+-ATPase). This enzyme maintains the balance of sodium and potassium ions
in the living cell. Both enzymes are bound to membranes in the cell and
linked with the transport of ions through these - but for different reasons.
ATP was first discovered in 1929 by the German chemist Karl Lohmann.
The English chemist Alexander Todd helped clarify its structure and became
the first to synthesize ATP in 1948. Todd won the Nobel Prize in 1957.
Another Nobel Laureate, Fritz Lipmann demonstrated that ATP is the universal
carrier of chemical energy in the cell.