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”.
Manfred Braun | alfa
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