1997: Sir John Walker
Walker (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the structure and mechanism of ATP synthase, a complex enzyme machine with a rotary mechanism, which has a pivotal role in providing energy for biological functions. Through studies that determined the precise structure of the ATP synthase enzyme, Walker revealed the intricate and elegant workings of the machine that generates the energy in our bodies needed to sustain our lives.
ATP synthase harnesses metabolic energy obtained from the food we ingest to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate). This chemical reaction takes place in mitochondria - the 'power house' present in almost all cells. It provides energy stored in the ATP molecule that is distributed as a fuel around the body. As required, other enzymes change ATP back into ADP and phosphate, releasing the stored energy to drive everything from the building of cell components to muscle contraction and the transmission of nerve signals.