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Chemistry symposium begins Oct. 18

by Cindy Weiss - October 16, 2006

Chemists gathering this week for the 2006 Randolph T. Major Symposium will consider whether evolution plays a role in one of the basic activities of some protein molecules.

A renowned expert on electron transfer in proteins, P. Leslie Dutton, will deliver three talks during the three-day event, beginning Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Chemistry A-203 with a lecture on "Darwin at the Molecular Level."

The symposium is hosted by the   chemistry department's Biological Division.

Dutton, the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and head of department at the University of Pennsylvania, will address the question of whether nature evolved optimal pathways for electron transfer in proteins.

"It's a simple question, but answering it can be a very complex process," says chemistry professor Harry Frank, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Nearly a third of nature's proteins carry out electron transfer, which triggers the start of other biological processes, such as gene regulation, drug detoxification, and solar energy conversion.

It is the primary process of photosynthesis, Frank says, and is not fully understood.

Dutton, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the scientific society and academy of the U.K.

He publishes extensively in Nature .

His laboratory investigates the processes that control biological electron transfer in order to understand what he calls "the highly complex natural engineering" in proteins that carry out electron transfer.

Another speaker at the Major symposium, Colin Wraight, professor and head of biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studies proton transfer across membranes, another fundamental cell activity that leads to a host of biological processes.

He will speak at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the Pharmacy Biology Building, Room 129.

Dutton will speak again on Thursday at 4 p.m. and Friday at 1 p.m. in Chemistry A-203.

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