Master of the creation of protein crystals receives the Aminoff Prize 2010

The Gregori Aminoff prize in crystallography 2010 is awarded Prof. So Iwata, Imperial College, London,

The Aminoff laureate of 2010, Prof. So Iwata. Photo: Imperial Collage, London

“for his seminal crystallographic studies of membrane proteins. Using state-of-the-art crystallographic methods, he has elucidated vital biological functions within the fields of cellular respiration, photosynthesis and molecular transport.”

Professor So Iwata is a singularly gifted protein crystallographer who has elucidated many of the membrane protein structures that have been solved to the present day. He has achieved unprecedented results by the use of state-of-the-art crystallographic methods to crystallize and determine the three-dimensional structures of molecules that had been recalcitrant to crystallographic efforts over many years. One of the first structures he elucidated was an enzyme from a nitrogen fixating bacterium. Through this structural study, he demonstrated how the cell uses chemical energy to pump protons through the membrane, a process that is vital to all aerobic life forms, man included.

Membrane proteins are responsible for many vital biological functions such as cellular respiration (the metabolism of the cell and the photosynthesis of plants), signal transduction (the communication with the environment outside the cell) and molecular transport (the cell’s control of what comes in and out of the cell). Membrane proteins may be compared to a cell’s door keeper. Since as much as a third of all proteins present in the body are membrane proteins it is crucial to understand their functions – but it has proven difficult to elucidate their structures.

One of So Iwata’s structural achievements which have attracted particular attention has yielded a mechanistic description of the vital reaction that results in the splitting of water into molecular oxygen and protons. This process contributes among others to the understanding of how to create artificial photosynthesis.

The Prize is awarded at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Annual meeting on 31 March 2010.

Prize sum: SEK 100 000.

About the laureate

Professor So Iwata, Japanese citizen. Born in 1963. PhD from the University of Tokyo in 1991. After four years as a senior lecturer at Uppsala University (1996–2000), he was called to a chair in membrane crystallography at Imperial College, London, UK, where he became the director of the Centre for Structural Biology in 2005.
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The Gregori Aminoff Prize

The Aminoff Prize is intended to reward a documented, individual contribution in the field of crystallography, including areas concerned with the dynamics of the formation and determination of crystal structures. The prize may be awarded either to an individual Swedish or foreign researcher, or to a joint research group of no more than three persons. The Aminoff Prize was awarded for the first time in 1979.