Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Nobel Laureate: Peter D. Mitchell

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1978

"for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemiosmotic theory"

Peter D. Mitchell (1920-1992) received the Nobel Prize in 1978 for developing the Chemiosmotic Theory to explain ATP synthesis resulting from membrane-associated electron transport [Ubiquinone and the Proton Pump].

Mitchell is the last of the gentleman scientists. He first proposed the chemiosmotic principle in a 1961 Nature article while he was at the University of Edinburgh. Shortly after that, ill health forced him to move to Cornwall where he renovated an old manor house and converted it into a research laboratory. From then on, he and his research colleague, Jennifer Moyle, continued to work on the chemiosmotic theory while being funded by his private research foundation. [Peter Mitchell: Wikipedia]

The Chemiosmotic Theory was controversial in 1978 and it still has not been fully integrated into some biochemistry textbooks in spite of the fact that it is now proven. The main reason for the resistance is that it overthrows much of traditional biochemistry and introduces a new way of thinking. It is a good example of a "paradigm shift" in biology.

Because he was such a private, and eccentric, scientist there are very few photos of Peter Mitchell or his research laboratory at Glynn House . The best description of him is in his biography Wandering in the Gardens of the Mind: Peter Mitchell and the Making of Glynn by John Prebble, and Bruce Weber. A Nature review by E.C. Slater [Metabolic Gardening] gives some of the flavor and mentions some of the controversy.

Many scientists believe that the Chemiosmotic Theory was the second greatest contribution to biology in the 2oth century (after the discovery of the structure of DNA). The case is strong, I think they're right.

1 comment:

  1. I've always been fascinated with Peter Mitchell's work on the chemiosmotic theory. I'll plan to read the book as I understand Mitchell had to overcome many critics including Hans Krebs. Does Glynn House still exist? Can it be visited today?