Proteins prove their metal

The word 'metal' conjures up images of machines and heavy industry but metals are also intimately involved in the biological processes that regulate our bodies and underpin new energy technologies.

metal enzyme protein'Nearly half of all enzymes require metals to function in catalysing biological reactions,' Kylie Vincent, of Oxford University's Department of Chemistry tells us. 'Both the metal and the surrounding protein are crucial in tuning the reactivity of metal catalytic centres in enzymes.'

These 'metal centres' are hives of industry at a microscopic scale, with metals often held in a special protein environment where they may be assembled into intricate clusters inside proteins.

'Chemists are interested in understanding the effects of the protein environment on the chemistry of the metal centres, and are also fascinated by the synthetic challenges of mimicking the structure and function of metal sites in proteins by smaller molecules,' comments Kylie.

Understanding these effects is important because metal-containing proteins are involved in many biological energy cycling reactions, including the oxidation or production of hydrogen and the conversion of carbon dioxide into organic carbon molecules.

Kylie has written a review of advances in this area of chemistry published in this week's Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.