The Gordon Research Conference on "Molecular & Cellular Bioenergetics" was first held in 1963 when it was named "Energy Coupling Mechanisms". The majority of the sessions of the conferences held in the 1960's and early 1970's were concerned with the mechanism of coupling ATP synthesis driven by electron transfer reactions in the mitochondrial inner membrane or driven by light absorption in photosynthetic membranes. The Chairs of the conferences during this period were: 1963, D. Rao Sanadi; 1965, Phillip Handler; 1968, Henry Lardy; 1971, Lester Packer; and 1974, D. Rao Sanadi. Although Peter Mitchell proposed his chemiosmotic coupling mechanism for ATP synthesis in 1961 that led to his Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1978, it was not until 1971 that all participants at this conference accepted the chemiosmotic mechanism for ATP synthesis in place of the high energy intermediate hypothesis that was postulated in the early 1950’s. Transition from the chemical coupling hypothesis to chemiosmotic coupling was catalyzed by a classic review article from G.D. Greville entitled “A Scrutiny of Mitchell’s Chemiosmotic Hypothesis of Respiratory Chain and Photosynthetic Phosphorylation
” (Current Topics in Bioenergetics 3
, 1-78 ). In 1981, the Thursday evening session of the GRC on Energy Coupling Mechanisms was a salute to Peter Mitchell in honor of his 60th birthday. This was the only GRC that he attended.
From 1977 - 1989, the biannual conferences on "Energy Coupling Mechanisms" continued to focus on molecular mechanisms involved in electron transport-driven ATP synthesis in energy transducing membranes. The Chairs during this period were: 1977, Paul Boyer; 1979, Sidney Fleischer; 1981, Youssef Hatefi; 1983, Peter Pedersen; 1985, Roderick Capaldi; 1987, Alan Senior; and 1989, Bernard Trumpower. The theme of these conferences was expanded to include sessions on membrane transport processes that included ion translocating ATPases of subcellular organelles, the bacterial lactose permease, and bacteriorhodopsin. The development of rapid DNA sequencing techniques and site-directed mutagenesis in the early 1980’s led to major changes in the focus of all areas of the conference. Molecular mechanisms involved in the import of nuclearly encoded proteins into the mitochondrion became a recurring topic after it was found that mammalian mitochondrial DNA encodes 13 proteins which are either components of the Fo
-ATP synthase or electron transfer complexes located in the mitochondrial inner membrane. Sequencing of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear genes encoding proteins imported into the mitochondrion led to sessions devoted to mitochondrial diseases. After it was recognized that vacuolar ATPases have structural similarities with the Fo
-ATP synthases, subsequent biannual conferences included sessions on V-ATPases.
Based on the expanded topics covered, the name of the 1989 conference was changed to "Bioenergetics". The chairs of the biannual conferences from 1991 - 2001 were: 1991, Richard Cross; 1993, Robert Gennis; 1995, Robert Fillingame; 1997, Shelagh Ferguson-Miller; 1999, William Allison; and 2001, William Cramer. Elucidation of the crystal structure of the photosynthetic reaction center in the late 1980’s, and crystal structures of the Fo
-ATP synthases and mitochondrial and bacterial electron transfer complexes in the 1990’s introduced sessions based on structure-function relationships probed by site directed mutagenesis. Memorable presentations during this period were descriptions of the structures of the Fo
-ATP synthase by John Walker and single molecule rotational catalysis by the immobilized F1
-ATPase reported by Masasuke Yoshida. Moreover, in an evening session on July 4, 1995 at Proctor Academy, Shinya Yoshikawa described the yet to be published structure of bovine cytochrome oxidase to a surprised audience. Just as he completed his talk, the first rockets of the Fourth of July celebration in Andover exploded. Before the audience could respond with applause, a smiling Professor Yoshikawa responded with thank, thank you, thank you. This coincidence could only happen immediately after a lecture delivered in rural New Hampshire.
From recognition that the scope of the conference had expanded to include many sessions based on cellular bioenergetics related to aging and disease, the name of the conference was changed to "Molecular & Cellular Bioenergetics" in 2003. Starting in 2004, this conference is now held annually. Those that chaired the conferences during this period are: 2003, Michael Forgac; 2004, Gary Cecchini; 2005, Patricia Kane; 2006, Stanley Dunn; and 2007, Fevzi Daldal. The chair elect for the 2008 conference is David Nicholls.
What is a GRC? Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) are 5-day meetings that bring scientists together from around the world to present and discuss unpublished research with other leaders in their field.