In Memoriam

Michael I. Verkhovsky

14.06.1953 - 04.10.2011

Michael I. Verkhovsky recently passed away broken by a malignant disease. Misha was born in Ukraine, former USSR, in 1953. He received his Master’s degree in biophysics at the Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1975, and his PhD in 1981 at the same university on work concerning the primary reaction mechanisms of bacterial photosynthesis in bacterial reaction centres, under the direction of Prof. Andrei B. Rubin. From 1989 onwards, he worked as a research scientist on bacterial bioenergetics at the Belozersky Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Bioorganic Chemistry at Moscow State university, headed by Prof. Vladimir P. Skulachev. In 1991, I invited him to the Helsinki Bioenergetics group to join our work on the molecular mechanisms of proton translocation by respiratory enzyme complexes, cytochrome c oxidase in particular. Misha and his wife Marina both joined the lab, and moved to Finland with their two children, which was to be the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration and warm friendship.

Very early on Misha expertly attacked the fast electron and proton transfer reactions of respiratory enzyme with his outstanding knowledge and feel for kinetics, and his great talent for developing opto-electronic instruments [1,2]. This included a paper published in Nature on the high affinity of the respiratory enzyme for oxygen, on which one of the reviewers' comments was - "textbook stuff" [3]. Simultaneously with this work, he developed the electrometric technique that had originated in Moscow, to become applicable for measurements of translocation of electrical charge across biological membranes with submicrosecond time resolution [4]. This technique has subsequently been a key instrument in helping us understand the molecular mechanisms that underly charge separation - and thus energy transduction - in cellular respiration [5, 6]. Misha's great talent for spectroscopy and kinetics also led to his discovery of the ultrafast nanosecond quantum-mechanical electron tunneling between the heme groups in the respiratory heme-copper oxidases [7], and to the unprecedented measurements of electron transfer in real time along the 100 Å array of iron- sulfur centres in respiratory Complex I [8].

Misha was appointed acting professor at university of Helsinki for the period 1996-2006, first at the Department of Medical Chemistry and later at the Institute of Biotechnology, and from 2005 he has been Group Leader at the Institute. He supervised several doctoral theses in Helsinki, and hosted a large number of foreign scientists, who benefitted from his outstanding experimentation and instrumentation skills.

Misha is grieved by his wife, Dr. Marina Verkhovskaya, and his two children Anatoly and Valeria. His untimely death at the peak of his very active scientific career is a great loss to the international science community, and especially to the Institute of Biotechnology and University of Helsinki.

Mårten Wikström

1. Verkhovsky, M.I., Morgan J.E. and Wikström, M. (1992) "Intramolecular electron transfer in cytochrome c oxidase; a cascade of equilibria", Biochemistry 31, 11860-11863. [link]
2. Verkhovsky, M.I., Morgan, J.E. and Wikström, M. (1995) "Control of Electron Delivery to the Oxygen Reduction Site of Cytochrome c Oxidase: A Role for Protons", Biochemistry 34, 7483-7491. [link]
3. Verkhovsky, M.I., Morgan, J.E., Puustinen, A., and Wikström, M. (1996) "Kinetic trapping of O2 in cell respiration", Nature 380, 268-270. [link]
4. Verkhovsky, M.I., Morgan, J.E., Verkhovskaya, M.L. and Wikström, M. (1997) "Translocation of electrical charge during a single turnover of cytochrome c oxidase", Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1318, 6- 10. [link]
5. Verkhovsky, M.I., Jasaitis, A., Verkhovskaya, M.L., Morgan, J.E. and Wikström, M. (1999) "Proton translocation by cytochrome c oxidase", Nature 400, 480-483. [link]
6. Belevich, I., Verkhovsky, M.I. & Wikström, M. (2006),"Proton-coupled electron transfer drives the proton pump of cytochrome c oxidase", Nature 440, 829-832. [link]
7. Jasaitis, A., Johansson, M.P., Wikström, M., Vos, M.H. & Verkhovsky, M.I. (2007) "Nanosecond electron tunneling between the hemes in cytochrome bo3", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104, 20811- 20814. [link]
8. Verkhovskaya, M.L., Belevich, N., Euro, L., Wikström, M. & Verkhovsky, M.I. (2008) "Real time electron transfer in Complex I", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105, 3763-3767. [link]

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