Iron - element of life and death
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Iron is the fourth most abundant element and second, after aluminium, metal in the Earth's crust. It is an essential nutrient for almost all living organisms. Iron is a component of hundreds proteins, enzymes and their cofactors. It is a central part of numerous systems, such as: oxygen transport and storage (hemoglobin), elektron transfer (cytochromes), DNA synthesis (ribonucleotide reduction), symbiotic nitrogen fixation (leghemoglobin, nitrogenase), hormone synthesis (i.e. lipoxygenases)... Due to its chemical properties, iron also poses a threat to living cells. It may catalyse one-electron transfer reactions, which (in the presence of active oxygen) generate radical species. Free radicals are the most potent oxidising agents known thus far. The best known effects of their actions include: oxidative DNA damage and lipid peroxidation. These reactions destroy the cell integrity and may lead to its death. Many of the 20th century diseases, like some cancers or heart problems, are in part caused by free radicals. In order to supply with iron and to protect from iron their components, living organisms have developed specific systems for iron acquisition and maintenance in the cell. Despite the potential risks of iron overload, 15% of the world's population suffers iron-deficiency anemia.
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P.M. Strozycki, Instytut Chemii Bioorganicznej PAN, ul. Noskowskiego 12/14, 61-704 Poznan, Poland, e-mail: email@example.com