of books by Joseph D. Robinson

JOSEPH D. ROBINSON, M.D., Professor at the Health Science Center, State University of New York, Syracuse. Received his degree from Yale University, 1959, and has devoted is scientific research to problem of ion transport across membranes. Current research interests in membrane transport are focused on determining the enzymatic reaction mechanism of the Na,K-ATPase, the enzyme that effects the active transport of those two cations across the cell membrane.He is also interested in the history and philosophy of science. A history of synaptic transmission is in progress, intended to depict not only the course of events but also to illustrate the processes by which new data and hypotheses are generated and defended against rival viewpoints.

Moving Questions: A History of Membrane Transport and Bioenergetics
by Joseph D. Robinson
Oxford University Press, 1997

Robinson's account of the development of ion transport across biological membranes gives a fascinating look into the thoughts of biochemists, physiologists, and structural biologist. Robinson portraits the growth of an idea into a solid body of evidence that made the structure and function of biological membranes a scientific fact. For a scientist working in the field it is exciting to find many names that often are only related to equations, analytical techniques, or hypothesis, but about which we know nothing about their everyday scientific work. Robinson's book is one great acknowledgment of all the many scientists involved in membrane transport studies. But Robinson not only presents a chronology, but also gives the proper perspective of how all this research was possible, the motivation of individuals, the struggle to gain insight, and the collaboration among individuals without which science would not work. Without a reductionist approach, the cellular mechanisms  -- carbohydrate metabolism, structure, muscle contraction, photosynthesis, oxidative phosphorylation et cetera --  could not be achieved and for anyone interested in modern biology, it might be interesting and surprising to see how very recent some 'obvious' facts have been validated experimentally. Looking back at publications on topics that have been firmly established during the last 20 to 30 years, but which have been understood conceptually for over half a century, the professional instinct and lucid description of hypotheses by scientists in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s is humbling. This not only includes Watson and Cricks 1952 seminal paper on the structure of DNA and implication thereof on function (replication), but for membrane biologists and protein biochemists the model of lipid bilayers as early as 1925 and 1935 and the many decades needed to improve technology to 'see' and 'observe' the submicroscopic structures of cell membranes.

For those interested in ion channels, the book does not present much. But it is my believe that transporters, channels, and pores are simply variations of a theme that are kinetically distinct, but structurally operate very similarly. (See B. Hille for an introduction to ion channels.)

December 30, 1999 /  © 1999 Lukas K. Buehler / go back to Book Review Home