Renowned biophysicist John Wilson Moore, puffer fish neurotoxin pioneer, dies at 98

John Wilson Moore, a renowned biophysicist and professor emeritus of neurobiology, died March 30 at the age of 98.

The University announced Moore's death and the lowering of Duke's flags in his honor in a news release last week. 

Moore gained fame for a variety of discoveries related to neurotoxins and the application of computers in neurobiology. One of his most prominent discoveries was uncovering how the puffer fish toxin tetrodotoxin kills by blocking sodium ion channels that are in charge of nerve activity. 

The Winston-Salem native received an undergraduate degree in physics from Davidson College in 1941 and was awarded a Ph.D. just four years after that from the University of Virginia.

Moore contributed research to the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb during his time at Virginia. His work specifically was to discover a way to make a centrifuge that would enrich uranium. He also helped create an automated director for a ship's guns. 

When Moore began his work at the Medical College of Virginia, he started applying his background in physics to biology. But once he was discovered by famous biophysicist K.S. Cole, Moore was asked by Cole to direct his lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts; he agreed, and returned to it annually for 67 summers. 

Daniel Tosteson, former James B. Duke distinguished professor of physiology and pharmacology, brought Moore to Duke in 1961. During his time at Duke, he made the influential discovery of showing how tetrodotoxin can inhibit nerve signals, along with Toshio Narahashi, former vice chairman of the department of physiology and pharmacology.

Twenty years later, Moore was the recipient of the Cole Award from the Biophysical Society for this research on tetrodotoxin.

In 1990, Moore retired from Duke. In his retirement, he and his wife Ann Stuart, a fellow neurobiologist, produced a digital textbook called "Neurons in Action" on a neuronal simulator NEURON. Moore and Michael Hines, a research scientist now at Yale University, created the software, and Hines continues to use it at Yale. 

Moore is survived by Stuart, a former professor in the department of cell biology and physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill will hold a memorial service Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m.

Stefanie Pousoulides profile
Stefanie Pousoulides | Investigations Editor

Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.


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