Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Life-sustaining stuff


ALAS, scientists at the GBF reveal the structure of a life-sustaining enzyme

Heme is the pigment responsible for the red colour of blood. All humans and animals need heme because it alone transports life-sustaining oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body. Scientists of the GBF and the Technical University in Braunschweig have resolved the 3-dimensional structure of the enzyme that catalyses the first step in the synthesis of heme. “This project completes a page in the history of science,” explains Dirk Heinz, head of structural biology at the GBF. “ALAS (short for ‘5-aminolevulinate synthase’) was the last remaining enzyme in heme synthesis for which the 3-dimensional structure was not known.” The results are now being published in the scientific EMBO Journal.

Production of heme in humans and animals works like an assembly line. Ten separate enzymes are involved. Each receives a precursor molecule from the preceding enzyme, modifies it in a predetermined way, and passes it on to the next enzyme in the queue. “ALAS is particularly important,” says Dieter Jahn, professor of microbiology at the Technical University, “because it is the first enzyme in the process. If it malfunctions, the entire process of heme synthesis is affected, resulting in severe anaemia”.

Dysfunction of ALAS, most often due to genetic defects on the X-chromosome, causes a particularly severe form of anaemia. Overall, a shortage of heme restricts the supply of oxygen to body tissues causing common symptoms including pale skin, tiredness and lack of concentration. In this case, they are, however, combined with the accumulation of toxic levels of iron that cause acute organ damage. “The new findings should help affected patients, in the long-term,” says Wolf-Dieter Schubert, group leader at the GBF. “The structure of ALAS will aid our understanding of this form of anaemia, will help to explain the symptoms, and will eventually enable us to improve its treatment”.

The structural analysis of ALAS was partly made possible by chance: Nature tends to stick to tried-and-tested biological principles for billions of years. Apart from humans, ALAS is also found in the evolutionary ancient group of proteobacteria. These primitive organisms invented the process of producing heme and related pigments about 3.5 billion years ago, when life itself had barely been established. The scientists could therefore use bacterial ALAS, which is very similar to the human form but much more stable, to analyse the structure.

Manfred Braun | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bioluminescent sensor causes brain cells to glow in the dark
28.10.2016 | Vanderbilt University

nachricht Activation of 2 genes linked to development of atherosclerosis
28.10.2016 | Brigham and Women's Hospital

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Steering a fusion plasma toward stability

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Bioluminescent sensor causes brain cells to glow in the dark

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Activation of 2 genes linked to development of atherosclerosis

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>