Long-Time NIH Grantee Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Release Date:
Alisa Zapp Machalek, NIGMS
Ann Dieffenbach, NIGMS
(301) 496-7301

Dr. Paul D. Boyer, a long-time NIH grantee, is one of three recipients of the 1997 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Boyer, who is a professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, received over $4.4 million in research grant support from NIH between 1948 and 1996. The vast majority of this support was from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, with other funding coming from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Dr. Jens C. Skou of Aarhus University in Denmark, one of the other prize recipients, received support from NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the early 1960's.

"The Nobel Prize recognizes Dr. Boyer for a lifetime spent investigating the molecular mechanism by which ATP--the cellular energy that drives all biological reactions--is formed," said Dr. Marvin Cassman, NIGMS Director. "Determining how ATP is synthesized has been a central problem in biology for decades and is at the core of an understanding of metabolic processes in the cell. Dr. Boyer has been a key contributor to the molecular understanding of ATP synthesis."

Since the early 1950's, Boyer has sought to understand the inner workings of ATP synthase, the enzyme he calls the "splendid molecular machine" that produces ATP. The enzyme is a complex protein rooted in the inner membranes of cellular structures called mitochondria, the "powerhouses of the cell."

Over several decades, Boyer developed a model of how the various subunits of the enzyme work together like gears, levers, and ratchets to generate cellular energy. His theories were confirmed in 1994 with a detailed, three-dimensional structure of the enzyme determined by the third recipient of the chemistry prize, Dr. John E. Walker of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. The techniques Boyer developed are now commonly used to study other ATP-utilizing enzymes.

NIGMS funds research and research training in the basic biomedical sciences, including chemistry. It has supported 20 of the 28 Nobel laureates in chemistry funded or employed by NIH since 1954.

Please call the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at (301) 496-7301 to interview a scientist who can give perspective on Dr. Boyer's research.