Metals are receiving ever-increasing recognition for their roles in biological processes. Recent examples include the potential importance of Zn in the ß-amyloid plaques of Alzheimer's disease; the effect of the (Cu,Zn)superoxide dismutase enzyme in mediating reactive oxygen species damage associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; the participation of the heme enzymes NO synthase and guanylyl cyclase in the production and sensing, respectively, of nitric oxide (NO), the most recently discovered neurotransmitter; the discovery of a "zinc-finger" motif in the recently defined breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA1; the discovery of metalloenzymes that can remove chlorine from chlorinated hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and thus are important in bioremediation. On the other hand, metals (especially heavy metals) can also be deleterious to organisms; biological systems have evolved for metal detoxification.
The occurrence of metallobiomolecules in biological systems of importance to the medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnological, and environmental industries, is widespread and still growing. A large percentage of newly discovered enzymes and proteins contain metal ions at their active sites. Metalloenzymes are involved in important biocatalytic processes such as fixation of nitrogen, methane biogenesis and oxidation, oxygen storage and utilization in higher organisms, and oxidative or reductive degradation of metabolites or xenobiotics. Understanding the structural and functional significance of these metal sites requires a specialized array of sophisticated instrumentation and techniques, as well as the expertise to use them. It is only through a detailed understanding of structure and function that enzymes can be selected or redesigned to perform industrially relevant catalysis.
The field of bioinorganic chemistry (also known as inorganic biochemistry or metallobiochemisty) has matured. The American Chemical Society Division of Inorganic Chemistry operates a popular Bioinorganic Chemistry Subdivision. 1995 witnessed the formation of the international Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry which publishes the Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry.