Using a lowly bloodless worm, University of Maryland researchers have discovered an important clue to how iron carried in human blood is absorbed and transported into the body. The finding could lead to developing new ways to reduce iron deficiency, the worlds number one nutritional disorder.
With C. elegans, a common microscopic worm that lives in dirt, Iqbal Hamza, assistant professor of animal and avian sciences, and his team identified previously unknown proteins that are key to transporting heme, the molecule that creates hemoglobin in blood and carries iron. It is a critical step in understanding how our bodies process iron. Their findings are published in the April 16 issue of Nature online.
The structure of hemoglobin has been crystallized over and over, says Hamza, but no one knows how the heme gets into the globin, or how humans absorb iron, which is mostly in the form of heme.
To understand the underlying issues of nutritional and genetic causes of iron deficiency, we are looking at the molecules and mechanisms involved in heme absorption. Once you understand transport of heme, you can more effectively deliver it to better absorb iron in the human intestine.
Heme and Blood
Heme is a critical molecule for health in all eukaryotes, organisms whose cells are organized into complex structures enclosed in membranes. Species of eukaryotes range from humans to bakers yeast. Heme makes blood red and binds to oxygen and other gases we need to survive.
Heme is created in the mitochondria, then moves through pathways that connect other cells, where it is synthesized to form blood. Heme on its own, however, is toxic.
We wanted to find out how heme gets carried between and within cells, said Hamza.
A Bloodless Worm
Eight steps are required to generate heme, making it a difficult process to control in the study of heme transport pathways, as Hamza learned when he first studied the question in bacteria
|Contact: Ellen Ternes|
University of Maryland