American biochemist who, with John E. Walker, was awarded the Nobel
Prize for Chemistry in 1997 for their explanation of the enzymatic process
involved in the production of the energy-storage molecule adenosine
triphosphate (ATP), which fuels the metabolic processes of the cells
of all living things. (Danish chemist Jens C. Skou also shared the award
for separate research on the molecule.)
In the early 1950s Boyer began to research how cells form ATP, a process
that occurs in animal cells in a structure called a mitochondrion. In
1961 the British chemist Peter D. Mitchell showed that the energy required
to make ATP is supplied as hydrogen ions flow across the mitochondrial
membrane down their concentration gradient in an energy-producing direction.
(For this work Mitchell won the 1978 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.) Boyer's
more recent research revealed more specifically what is involved in
ATP synthesis. His work focused on the enzyme ATP synthase, and he demonstrated
how the enzyme harnesses the energy produced by the hydrogen flow to
form ATP out of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and inorganic phosphate.
Boyer postulated an unusual mechanism to explain the way in which ATP
synthase functions. Known as his "binding change mechanism,"
it was partially confirmed by Walker's research.
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