Deadly coral toxin exposes ion pump’s deepest secret

Right now, in your body, tiny pumps in the fatty membranes surrounding all your cells are hard at work pushing select charged ions, such as sodium, potassium or calcium, through those membranes. Like a water pump in a high-rise apartment building overcoming the force of gravity to move water up to a tank on its roof, these ion pumps work against “electrochemical gradients” to transport ions from one side of the membrane to the other. Now, researchers at The Rockefeller University report using palytoxin, a deadly coral-derived toxin, to pry open perhaps the ion pump’s deepest secret: that it is essentially a more elaborate version of an ion channel.