Prof. Sir John Walker

Nobel Laureate & Emeritus Director, MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit

Professor Sir John Walker FRS studied chemistry at St Catherine’s College Oxford. After periods of study and research at the University of Wisconsin USA, and The Pasteur Institute in Paris, in 1974 he joined the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, where he established the details of the modified genetic code of mitochondria, helped to discover overlapping genes in bacteriophages and discovered the two eponymous protein sequence motifs involved in binding nucleotides. They are the most widely dispersed motifs in the entire biological kingdom. Here, he also developed his interest in how energy in food is converted into the molecule ATP, the energy currency of life. In 1994, his work led to the realisation that in a complex molecular machine in our bodies, the energy released by the oxidation of dietary sugars and fats is coupled by a mechanical rotary mechanism to the chemical synthesis of ATP. This work led to the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997. In 1998, he was appointed Director of the MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, which became the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit in 2008. Since 2013 he has been Director Emeritus. Here he continues to delve deeper into the fundamental basis of energy conversion in biology. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 2012, he received its Copley Medal, the UK’s highest scientific accolade. He is also a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, a Foreign Member of L’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Royal Society of New Zealand and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.