Roderick MacKinnon (2005) - Ion Channels: Life's Electronic Hardware

Roderick MacKinnon (2005)

Ion Channels: Life's Electronic Hardware

Roderick MacKinnon (2005)

Ion Channels: Life's Electronic Hardware

Abstract

When you think to wiggle your finger it doesn’t take long for the message to go from your brain to the muscles in your finger. The message is carried as electrical impulses along nerve fibers. We are completely wired: electrical signals underlie our movements, our ability to experience the world through our five senses, and even our thought processes. The first ideas that living organisms produce electrical signals were put forth more than two hundred years ago, at the same time that basic principles of electricity were developed in physics.

Fifty years ago Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley showed that nerve cells make electrical impulses when ions - charged atoms of sodium and potassium - move across the cell membrane. We now know that the ions cross the membrane through special proteins called ion channels, and very recently we have visualized the atomic structure of ion channel proteins. These are amazing little devices that apply the rules of chemistry to produce electrical signals. In my talk I will discuss the atomic structures of ion channels and how they function.

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