Daniel Branton

Harvard University


Primary Section: 29, Biophysics and Computational Biology
Secondary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Membership Type: Member (elected 1981)

Biosketch

Daniel Branton is Higgins Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Harvard University.  He received his B.A. in Mathematics (Cornell) and Ph.D. in plant physiology (UC Berkley), where he was Professor of Botany before moving to Harvard in 1973.  Early in his career at the University of California, Branton discovered that biological membranes and lipid bilayers can easily be cleft into two sheets to reveal their hydrophobic core-structures, including transmembrane proteins and membrane channels.  During the 1960's his research visualizing membranes after freeze-etching were critical in providing the foundation for our current understanding of their lipid-bilayer structure.  Subsequently, Branton quantified the interactions between erythroid transmembrane proteins and membrane skeletal proteins; showed how the basic pattern of protein-protein interactions that interconnects the erythrocyte membrane skeleton provides a detailed molecular explanation of erythrocyte shape; and discovered that the clathrin coat of endocytic vesicles is composed of hexameric molecules assembled as a triskelion.  In 1995 with David Deamer, Branton proposed that biopolymers can be characterized and sequenced by drawing them through a nanopore.  This idea led to the development of nanopore sequencing of DNA and RNA.  Branton is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Nanopore Sequencing: A novel technology for sequencing individual DNA molecules using single-channel recording techniques has been conceived. Single molecules of DNA are drawn through a small channel or nanopore that functions as a sensitive detector. The detection schemes being developed will transduce the different chemical and physical properties of each base into a characteristic electronic signal. Nanopore sequencing has the potential of reading very long stretches of DNA at rates exceeding 1 base per millisecond. Thus, the time and errors usually required to deal with repetitive sequences and the assembly of contiguous elements can be minimized.

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