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Home > Biological Sciences home > Staff directory > Dr John N. Prebble, Honorary Fellow
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Dr John N. Prebble, Honorary Fellow



(Formerly Vice-Principal and Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry)


History of Biochemistry

My principal interest is in the history of biology, in particular the development of bioenergetics in the twentieth century. The debates and arguments which surrounded three principal theories of oxidative phosphorylation (the chemical, conformational and chemiosmotic) together with other less prominent proposals illustrate the problems and

successes of scientific discovery in those biological sciences which are based in laboratory experimentation. Hitherto these issues have been explored in relation to the contributions of the Nobel Laureate, Peter Mitchell who formulated the chemiosmotic theory in 1961 (revised 1966). As an example of theory development in this field, I have analysed the proposals and correspondence of Peter Mitchell, RJP (Bob) Williams and Paul Boyer. The way in which cell bioenergetics developed to become a coherent field of study in the 1950s has also been examined. Some of this work has been carried out in association with Bruce Weber (California State University, Fullerton).

The current project is a history of cell bioenergetics designed to contribute to the current interest in biology as a search for mechanism.


“Contrasting Approaches to a Biological Problem: Paul Boyer, Peter Mitchell and the Mechanism of the ATP Synthase, 1961-1985.” Journal of the History of Biology. . In the Press 2012.

Online: DOI: 10.1007/s10739-012-9343-7 

“The discovery of oxidative phosphorylation: a conceptual off-shoot from the study of glycolysis.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (2010) 253-262.

“Jeffrey Barry Harborne. 1 September 1928 – 21 July 2002.”  Biographical. Memoirs of Fellows of the  Royal Society 56 (2010) 131-147.

With BH Weber. “Peter Mitchell: Changing the Face of Bioenergetics.” In Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology. Ed. Oren Harman and Michael Dietrich, Yale University Press, 2008. Pp. 231-247.

With BH Weber. "An Issue of Originality and Priority: The Correspondence and Theories of Oxidative Phosphorylation of Peter Mitchell and Robert J.P. Williams, 1961-1980," Journal of the History of Biology 39 (2006): 125-163.

Struggle and Achievement, Royal Holloway, University of London 1980-2002. Royal Holloway and Bedford New College 2005. Pp. 196.

Mitchell, Peter Dennis (1920-1992), biochemist. in Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004.

With BH Weber. Wandering in the Gardens of the Mind. Peter Mitchell and the making of Glynn. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003. 324 pp.

"Peter Mitchell and the Ox Phos Wars" Trends in Biochemical Sciences 27 (2002): 209-212.

"The Philosophical Origins of Mitchell's Chemiosmotic Concepts. The Personal Factor in Scientific Theory Formulation." Journal of the History of Biology 34 (2001) 433-460.

“The lasting value of Mitchell's mechanisms.” Nature 404, 330, 2000.

“What makes Biochemical Heroes? The development of theories in bioenergetics.” The Biochemist August 1999. Pp. 47-49.

“Successful theory development in Biology: a consideration of the theories of oxidative phosphorylation proposed by Davies and Krebs, Williams and Mitchell.” Bioscience Reports 16, 207-215, 1996.

"Mitochondria and chloroplasts." In: Solute transport in plant cells and tissues. Longman, 1988. Pp. 28-82.

Mitochondria, Chloroplasts and Bacterial Membranes. Longman. 1981. 378 pp


Home: 01364-72425
Email: j.prebble@rhul.ac.uk




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