Figure 31 Bernard Katz at the Missouri Botanical Garden on a visit to St Louis circa 1980 Courtesy of David Johnson

In 1971, Katz and Miledi were nearing the end of their extraordinarily productive collaboration on the mechanism of synaptic transmission. Katz had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine the year before for his fundamental series of discoveries about synaptic transmission, and this line of research using electrophysiology and complementary electron microscopical methods seemed almost complete after more than 20 years. Katz and Miledi were starting a new phase of investigation at the molecular level. Their immediate aim was to understand the molecular events underlying the action of neurotransmitters by looking at what was then called "synaptic noise." The noise in question was tiny, random fluctuations of membrane voltage that they thought might represent the effects of transmitter molecules opening individual ion channels at the synapse. Identifying neurotransmitter action at this level would be another major advance and would open a new chapter in understanding synaptic mechanisms. At the same time, Miledi and Lincoln Potter, a young biochemist who was David Potter's brother, were undertaking an ambitious effort to isolate and identify the receptor molecule for acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter at the neuromuscular junction. These projects, which were already highly competitive and fraught with controversy, seemed to be far beyond our skills or interests. (Ironically, solving the noise problem, at which Katz and Miledi ultimately failed, would make Sakmann famous within a decade.)

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