MacKinnon lab's newest picture tells action potential story

voltage-dependent potassium channels are extremely similar throughout every branch of the evolutionary tree."

A colleague of MacKinnon, Rockefeller Professor David Gadsby, who heads a separate lab and also studies ion channels and their functioning, cites MacKinnon's attentiveness to conserved parts as one of the keys to his canny leadership. "Rod pays close attention to evolution, noting which sequences are conserved. When he finds them he homes in to investigate the very essence of simple creatures' ion channels that is consistently retained in more complex organisms."

Model scientists, not magic

"In almost every scientific forum," says MacKinnon, "someone always asks the question. 'Do you have a magic wand?'"

The question arises because no other scientist has ever led a research team so successfully in solving elusive protein structures using x-ray crystallography, then using those structures as the centerpiece of a rigorous analysis of one of biology's fundamental problems: how do voltage and permeability at the cell membrane form a reliable, instantaneous, feedback loop?

MacKinnon insists the secret to his success is the team of hardworking, exemplary researchers who seek him out.

"The researchers in my lab are extremely determined, and willing, for example, to purify the same protein not once, but hundreds of times, in order to verify it and produce enough of what we need for making crystals," says MacKinnon.

The voltage dependent potassium channel is but one example of the determination MacKinnon cites. It took postdoctoral associate Youxing Jiang, with the help of staff scientists Alice Lee and Jiayun Chen, five years to solve the structure of the voltage gated potassium channel. In desperation mid-way through, he and his colleagues in MacKinnon's lab took up another project, the calcium-dependent potassium channel, which they solved and published in Nature in 2002.

"Many times I want

Contact: Lynn Love
Rockefeller University

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