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Janos Lanyi: The Potential of Proton Pumps

Janos Lanyi explores what microbes have to teach us about energy storage.

bacteriorhodopsin

Top view of photosynthetic protein bacteriorhodopsin surrounded by lipid molecules

Like charging a battery, cells use special proteins in their membranes to store up potential energy for later use. These proteins accomplish their work by shuttling protons (positively-charged subatomic particles) from one side of a cellular membrane to the other. Such proteins are called “proton pumps,” and Janos Lanyi, Ph.D. believes they have a lot to teach us about capturing and manipulating energy.

“We should take advantage of what was learned by biology, and take this information and transfer it for our own uses,” said Lanyi. In particular, his work focuses on a protein called bacteriorhodopsin, found in the salt-loving marine organism Halobacterium salinarum. Because bacteriorhodopsin is a relatively small, simple example of a proton pump, Lanyi sees it as a good model for studying the chemistry behind some of nature’s strategies for energy capture and storage.

Presentation: “Ion Translocation across Biological Membranes” (PDF)

Audio Interview (MP3)

Janos Lanyi is a Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California, Irvine.