Introduction to bioinorganic chemistry

My field is bioinorganic chemistry, which may be a new term to some readers of this page. It even sounds wrong to some people. After all, "bio-" suggests a relationship to life and "inorganic" once referred to materials that did NOT come from living things. The modern definition of "inorganic chemistry," is, however, much broader. It is simply "everything that is not organic chemistry," where "organic chemistry" primarily deals with hydrocarbons.

Modern chemists know that many biomolecules are not only hydrocarbons, and many contain metal atoms, including magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, cobalt, and zinc (to name a few). In fact, 25-50% of all proteins in the cell (depending on who you ask) contain metals or other cofactors (a term which includes some small organic and inorganic molecules). As an example, your blood is red because it contains hemoglobin, which gets its intense color from heme, an iron-containing cofactor.

Biology is a great source of interesting metal complexes, and inorganic chemistry is a great tool with which to explore some important biological questions. My specific area of interest is metal-containing proteins (or metalloproteins), although other bioinorganic chemists are interested in DNA or RNA, small molecule models of proteins, metal-containing drugs, computational chemistry, or materials chemistry. As a bioinorganic chemist, I have the chance to explore my interests in both biochemistry and inorganic chemistry.

Dr. Brandy S. Russell

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