Metals play important roles in biological systems and industrial processes. Aside from their properties as independent ions and charge carriers, metals can act as structural components and as catalytic centers. Bioinorganic chemistry studies the functions and roles of metal ions in biological systems. Enzymatic reactions can be explained by their respective active sites. These sites contain metal ions controlling the trigger mechanism of the enzymes. Many key metabolic transformations require the controlled oxidation of organic substrates, and these transformations often rely on the activation of molecular oxygen, O2, by metal ions at the active sites of oxygenase enzymes. Cytochromes P450 are a superfamily of heme-containing enzymes that catalyze the transfer of an oxygen atom from molecular oxygen into biological substrates. This development leads us to unveil the chemistry of nonheme iron enzymes and understand how enzymes activate O2 and carry out their chemistry. The earlier knowledge derived from heme-containing enzymes posed several questions. How do the nonheme iron enzymes activate O2 What are the reactive intermediates responsible for the oxygenation of hydrocarbons?
The research at Centre for Biomimetic Systems (CBS) in Ewha works in answering these mysteries, in collaboration with premier biomimetic laboratories in the world. Some of the pioneering works on the structural characterization of the active site on non-heme models were carried out at CBS.
When the entire world is focusing on nano materials and related works, the role of a bioinorganic chemist is indispensable. Understanding the nature of the enzymatic reactions can help people develop novel therapeutic tools for reactivating dormant enzymes. Biomimetics can be employed for curing ischemia-associated diseases. Ischemia-reperfusion cycling in organs such as brain and heart produces large amounts of reactive oxygen species, which are closely related with tissue injury in cerebral and cardiac ischemic insults. This can help better understand brain aging and enzyme based disorders.
Biocatalysis has emerged as an important tool in the synthesis of chemical and pharmaceutical intermediates. Enzymes are very selective catalysts and catalyze only specific substrate molecules. Thus, biomimetic catalysts that can show reactions with regio-, stereo-, shape-, and enantio-selectivity along with a high efficiency can be vital boost for several industrial applications.
- by Professor Nam Won-woo (Nano Sciences)