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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1972:   The Mechanism of Muscle Contraction, Vol. XXXVII

Organizer: James Watson

Table of Contents

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The early Symposia had dealt with a wide variety of topics in what might be called cellular biophysics. These included membrane permeability, osmotic effects, cytoplasm as an example of the colloidal state, and nerve conduction. These were areas in which the morphologist, biochemist, physiologist and even the physicist could make contributions. Strangely, muscle had not been prominent in any Symposium, although it made a brief appearance in Bernard Katz' talk on the neuromuscular junction in the 1952 Symposium. It is possible that the most significant development in muscle molecular biology-the sliding filament model by Hugh Huxley in 1953-came at just the wrong moment. The exciting developments in muscle biology had to compete with the developments in molecular genetics, and it is not surprising, given the interests of the Cold Spring Harbor directors, that the Symposia through the 1950s and 1960s were devoted primarily to genetics.

Nevertheless, the 1972 Symposium made amends with a meeting attended by many luminaries of the muscle world. Both Andrew and Hugh Huxley (not related to each other) were there, as were Jean Hanson (who died tragically young in 1973), Setsuro Ebashi, Sam Perry, and most notably, Albert Szent-Gyšrgyi. His

opening remarks are not recorded in the Symposium volume but the panel of photographs of him during the presentation show a vigor and passion undimmed since his seminal discoveries on oxidation 40 years earlier.

An interesting aspect of the Symposium was the inclusion of non-muscle motile systems. These included platelets and mammalian cells in tissue culture, as well as more exotic creatures such as the soil amoeba, Acanthamoeba castellanii, and the slime mold, Physarium polycephalum. Curiously, this section was followed by one on the energetics and mechanical properties of muscle that had been pioneered by A. V. Hill in the early part of the 20th century. Such studies were the foundation of muscle biology, generating a data that provided information about the molecular events going on inside muscle.

Jan A. Witkowski

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