Ian Gibbons conducted research on the biomolecular mechanisms of cell motility. He discovered, named and characterised the founding member of the dynein ATPase family of motor proteins and other microtubular components in cilia and flagella. By elegantly combining biochemical techniques with light and electron microscopy, he greatly advanced our understanding of microtubule-based motility, particularly by the direct visual demonstration of active dynein-dependent sliding between adjacent microtubules in structurally weakened flagella.
His laboratory made innovative use of the polymerase chain-reaction to determine a complete sequence for the exceptionally heavy polypeptide subunit forming a dynein motor. This opened dynein to study by molecular biological procedures in many laboratories, rapidly revealing the highly conserved structure and broad functional importance of the dynein motor family in eukaryotes.
Forty years after discovering dynein, Ian and collaborators determined an atomic structure for its microtubule binding domain, the first functional region of a dynein motor studied at this resolution, and described the sliding coiled-coil mechanism that is involved in modulating dynein’s affinity for microtubule binding during its mechanochemical ATPase cycle.
Professor Ian Gibbons FRS died on 30 January 2018.
Visiting Scholar, Department Of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Research Associate, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco
Emeritus Professor of Biophysics, Pacific Biomedical Research Center, University of Hawaii
Interests and expertise