John E. Walker
was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, the son of a stone mason and amateur musician.
He was brought up with his two younger sisters in a rural environment and
went to Rastrick Grammar School. At school, he was a keen sportsman and
specialized in physical sciences and mathematics the last three years. He
received a B.A. degree from St. Catherine's College, Oxford University.
He began study of peptide antibiotics with E. P. Abraham at Oxford in 1965 and received his Ph.D. in 1969. During this period, he became interested in the spectacular developments in molecular biology.
From 1969-1971, he worked at the University of Wisconsin, and from 1971-1974 in France. He met Fred Sanger in 1974 at a workshop at Cambridge University. This resulted in an invitation to work at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council, which became a long-term appointment. Among the other staff was Francis Crick, who was to become a household word for his discovery of the molecular structure of DNA.
At first, he analyzed the sequences of proteins and then uncovered details of the modified genetic code in mitochondria. In 1978, he decided to apply protein chemical methods to membrane proteins.
He shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997 with the American chemist Paul D. Boyer for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate. They also shared the prize with Danish chemist Jens C. Skou for research unrelated to theirs.
He married Christina Westcott in 1963, and they have two daughters.