PEI Faculty Seminar Series Video: The Bonds We Make and the Bonds We Break; A Chemist’s View of How Metals Drive Biology

Igor Heifetz ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

You may have learned in high school that covalent combinations of the CHNOPS elements comprise nearly all of biology. However, it is the family of less abundant elements, particularly iron, manganese, cobalt and copper, that mediate the most important life processes. This is the metallome. Indeed, life on earth is driven by an interconnected network of redox reactions. The reduction of oxygen to water by heme iron drives the proton pump of respiration and a manganese cluster extracts electrons from water in photosynthesis. Biogeochemical cycles on a global scale are mediated at the molecular level by this metal catalysis. Thus, small molecules like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and methane are both the basic currency of energy transduction and the building blocks of biomass. In this lecture I will discuss some our understanding of how nature uses iron and manganese to manage this redox biochemistry. Further, those insights have led directly to the design of new reactions that nature has not yet discovered yet.