Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Warwick
Dates: Oct 2004-Sep 2009
Summary: Our research is concerned with the understanding how metal ions, in particular zinc, are transported in biological systems. We study zinc-binding proteins from a variety of organisms, including mammals, plants, worms, and bacteria.
Zinc is the second most abundant trace element after iron, and is involved in virtually all metabolic pathways. In humans and other animals, zinc has impacts on fertility, development, the immune system, ageing and brain health. The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2008 has identified “supplying vitamin A and zinc to 80 percent of the 140 million children who lack them in developing countries” as the solution with the highest priority to the ten greatest global challenges. Plant sciences may play an integral part in this scenario, as crops such as wheat are the staple diet for the majority of people. Significantly, zinc deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world, leading to stunted growth and low yields - therefore, understanding the zinc metabolism of plants has a direct impact on food security. We are currently working on a protein that plays a role in zinc accumulation in wheat germs, and its relatives also play a role in drought resistance. We hope that our work on the chemistry of these proteins will further our understanding of how these proteins work in their biological system.
We also study the zinc metabolism of marine cyanobacteria. These photosynthetic organisms are responsible for a large part of global CO2 fixation. Several enzymes involved in this process are predicted to require zinc, but this has not been confirmed experimentally - therefore, we are developing analytical methods to keep track of zinc in biological systems. We hope that understanding the impact of zinc in marine cyanobacteria will contribute to get a better understanding of global biogeochemical cycles.