When a growth factor binds to the plasma membrane of a quiescent cell, an intracellular signaling pathway is activated telling the cell to begin growing. A key molecule in this signaling pathway is the GTP-binding protein, or G-protein, Ras. Ras can act as an on-off switch telling the cell to grow or not. In its inactive form, Ras is bound to GDP while in its active form it is bound to GTP. This exchange of nucleotides is catalysed by guanine nucleotide-exchange-factors (GEFs). The return to the inactive state occurs through the GTPase reaction, which is accelerated by GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs). In Part 1 of his talk, Dr. Wittinghofer explains how solving the three-dimensional structure of Ras, and other G-proteins, allowed him to understand the conserved mechanism by which G-proteins can act as switches. The structure also identified domains unique to each G-protein that provide the specificity for downstream signals.