Saturday, December 26, 2009

Invisible Hand for Energy Supply and Demand (for the body)

Dr. Edwin G. Krebs, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1992 for discovering a crucial bodily process that helps govern the movement of muscles, the shape and division of cells, and even learning and memory, died Monday in Seattle. He was 91....

The process Dr. Krebs discovered in the 1950s with Edmond H. Fischer, a colleague at the University of Washington, activates proteins that can change the entire character of cell functions, thus regulating them. Among other actions, the process can trigger the release of hormones that govern bodily functions.

When the process is carried out in successive steps, it can create a cascade that has a powerful final effect. That wave helps to explain how a tiny amount of a hormone, say, can have a vast effect on normal functions throughout the body. It also helps explain cell growth and death.

“It was an embarrassingly simple reaction that we found,” Dr. Fischer said in a telephone interview Wednesday, and “it came out as a total surprise.”

“It turned out to be absolutely crucial for the regulation of cellular processes,” he said.

Imbalances in the cascade effect are believed to be important factors in the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system disorders. Researchers creating novel therapies to combat these diseases have drawn on the work of Drs. Krebs and Fischer, principally by adding and removing phosphates to cell proteins in a process called reversible protein phosphorylation....

In presenting the prize, Prof. Hans Jornvall of the Nobel Assembly likened phosphorylation to ballet shoes: “Despite their small size, they have dramatic effects on their wearer! The shape of the foot is altered, and after that, work is like a dance.” The process is reversible and can be repeated many times, like taking off and putting on the shoes.

-Edwin Krebs Dies at 91; Discovered a Crucial Bodily Process

So why did he become a scientist?

Urbana High School was an excellent institution with highly dedicated teachers and a broad range of extracurricular activities that were useful in helping me make up my mind as to what I wanted to do in life. This problem was one that was occupying my mind increasingly at this time. Because these were depression years, my thinking about various professions was colored by the question of whether or not a given choice of work was one in which I could earn a livelihood. I gravitated toward a scientific career, not because of deep interest in the challenges of the unknown, but because I felt that there was security in becoming a scientist. Science courses, more than the others, provided subject matter that I felt could actually be used.

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