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Heme Channel Found: Shuttles Vital but Vulnerable Heme Molecule Across Biological Membranes

In some ways a cell in your body or an organelle in that cell is like an ancient walled town. Life inside either depends critically on the intelligence of the gatekeepers.

If too many barbarians sneak into town, the town may be put to the torch. And if the cellular gatekeepers can't control the flow of ions and molecules into and out of the cell, the cell may die.

Because of their importance, cellular gates, channels and transporters, are the targets of intense scientific interest.

One substance that has to cross the cell membrane is a molecule called heme, which plays a crucial role in supplying the cell with the energy needed to carry out the chemical reactions that sustain life.

Although heme is made inside a bacterium or cell organelle, it must be moved outside and plugged into a protein before it becomes functional. What's more, because it is chemically vulnerable, it must be protected as it makes this mini-journey.

Earlier this year scientists at Washington University in St. Louis discovered a channel present in plants and many bacteria that both transfers and protects the heme. The work, done by graduate student Elaine Frawley and biology professor Robert Kranz, was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
 

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