Biophysical and structural aspects of bioenergetics

Biophysical and structural aspects of bioenergetics 

M?rten Wikstr?m (ed) 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry | 2006 | 396 pp | ?74.95 (HB) | ISBN 0854043462 

Reviewed by Conrad Mullineaux 

Life as we know it depends on pumping protons across membranes. The protein complexes that do this, harnessing photons or redox reactions as free energy sources, are an extraordinary set of variations on a theme. They have almost as much claim as DNA to be at the heart of biology. Their study has just undergone another revolution with the advent of a plethora of x-ray crystallographic structures.  

However, this is only one step on the way to understanding the chemistry and physics of electron transfer and proton translocation. Important aspects of function are determined by fine details that lie below the resolution of the crystal structures. Furthermore, in real life, many of these protein complexes are highly flexible and dynamic, and this is crucial to their function. A crystallographic structure is only a snapshot of one conformation of the protein. 

This book is also a snapshot: it collects a series of up-to-the-minute chapters from the leading research groups, showing the current state of the field as it moves into the ’post-structural era’. The way forward combines crystallographic analysis with site-directed mutagenesis and spectroscopy, in the quest to get a dynamic, atomic level, understanding.  

Bioenergeticists are now answering questions that they might not even have dared to think about a few years ago, and it is possible that other biologists will no longer see the point of it all. 

The chapter entitled The bc1 complex: what is there left to argue about? nicely illustrates the problem. In fact there is plenty left to argue about, and chemists need to be involved. Shinya Yoshikawa suggests that chemistry is not yet up to the job: ’significant improvement in chemical terminology is required for elucidation of the mechanism of the catalytic activities’. 

The book is a beautifully produced research-level resource for those already involved in the field. Newcomers to bioenergetics may find it intimidating and are recommended to read Bioenergetics 3  by David Nicholls and Stuart Ferguson first.