There’s so much talk of biologically inspired innovation, I thought it was about time to start tracking down briefings on ‘how nature got there first’

Buckle up for some mind-blowing animations at 2m16s into the video. Yes, this talk is right at the edge of intelligibility for the uninitiated: biophysics legend Ron Vale does occasionally use the odd unexplained term (e.g. motility, which is spontaneous self-movability) but he mostly explains things clearly enough for those of us with a general interest in keeping up to date with science and technology.

Here’s Ron’s introduction to the talk:

Molecular motor proteins are fascinating enzymes that power much of the movement performed by living organisms.

In the first part of this lecture, I will provide an overview of the motors that move along cytoskeletal tracks (kinesin and dynein which move along microtubules and myosin which moves along actin).

The main focus of this lecture is on how motor proteins work.

How does a nanoscale protein convert energy from ATP hydrolysis into unidirectional motion and force production?

What tools do we have at our disposal to study them?

The first part of the lecture will focus on these questions for kinesin (a microtubule-based motor) and myosin (an actin-based motor), since they have been the subject of extensive studies and good models for their mechanisms have emerged.

I conclude by discussing the importance of understanding motor proteins for human disease, in particular illustrating a recent biotechnology effort from Cytokinetics, Inc. to develop drugs that activate cardiac myosins to improve cardiac contractility in patients suffering from heart failure.

Here’s Ron’s second talk on the subject:

Here’s his intro to that second talk:

In the second part of this lecture, I will discuss our laboratories current work on the mechanism of movement by dynein, a motor protein about which we still know very little.

This is a research story in progress, where some advances have been made.

However, much remains to be done in order to understand how this motor works.

Here’s the final talk in the series:

Here’s Ron’s intro to the third talk:

The third (last) part of the lecture is on mitosis, the process by which chromosomes are aligned and then segregated during cell division.

I will describe our efforts to find new proteins that are important for mitosis through a high throughput RNAi screen.

I will discuss how we technically executed the screen and then focus on new proteins that are we discovered that are involved in generating the microtubules that compose the mitotic spindle.

I also discuss the medical importance of studying mitosis, including the development of drugs targeted to mitotic motor proteins, which are currently undergoing testing in clinical trials.

Apart from his legendary early work in the discovery of Kinesin in 1984, here’s a very brief bio:

He is the William K. Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Anesthesia and Professor and Chair of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco.

He’s also an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

He received a B.A. degree in biology and chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience from Stanford University.

His postdoctoral studies at the NIH Marine Biological Laboratory were on microtubule-based motors.

Dr. Vale’s honors include the Pfizer Award in enzyme chemistry, the Young Investigator Award from the Biophysical Society, and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.