An international team of researchers, led by the University of Leicester, has solved a long-standing mystery in biology, by identifying the molecular structure of a vital biological chemical. The debate – which has raged within the scientific community for years – boils down to something as simple as a hydrogen atom: is it there, or is it not? The controversy centres around a form of enzyme called a heme (or haem, as in haemoglobin) at the centre of which is an iron atom (Fe) called a ‘ferryl’ which becomes oxidised when a reacting heme is in an intermediate state called Compound I. The question that has taxed biological chemists for decades is whether this oxidation involves just an oxygen atom (O), or a hydroxyl group (OH). The difference being one hydrogen ion, or in other words, a proton. Much has been written in the scientific literature about this ferryl heme, some scientists arguing that it carries a proton, while others have been equally adamant that no proton is present. Resolving this fundamental inconsistency has implications for understanding of oxidative processes within living cells, which is crucially important for drug development. Professors Peter Moody and Emma Raven from the University of
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