Nitric oxide: chemistry and importance in biology

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At 3:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, Nicolai Lehnert will be at Michigan Tech to discuss the chemical properties of nitric oxide and its relevance in biology. Lehnert is a professor of chemistry and biophysics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He studied chemistry at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. Later, he began doing postdoctoral research at Stanford University. His work has been focused on the coordination chemistry of nitric oxide and how it functions in biological systems. His presentation on this research will be given in room 101 of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Building.

There are many chemicals that make up the immune system in animals, varying for each species. Each chemical plays an important role in defending the body from diseases. Nitric oxide is created within mammals to function as a signaling molecule within this system, meant to transmit information to other cells. These molecules are also used in more defensive cells known as macrophages, which fight of invading pathogens by ingesting invading bacteria.

Mammals, however, are not the only organism to utilize a form of nitric oxide in its own defense. There are types of disease-causing bacteria which also adapt a form of nitric oxide known as flavodiiron nitric oxide reductases, which can protect them against the nitric oxide on the outside of the cell used by macrophages in a mammal’s immune system. By reacting with nitric oxide, FNORs can make this defense useless by creating dinitrogen oxide and water instead of the nitrous oxide which allows mammals to defend against many pathogens.

As a result of the biological use of nitric oxide and the enzyme, FNOR, studying these reactions becomes important within the biomedical field. These bacteria have a strong defense against the immune system within mammals, making it important to determine a new way to fend off the diseases they cause. Yet, despite the significance of what this means, there is not much known about how the FNOR enzymes function.

Lehnert has done quite a bit of research on these enzymes and molecules, and plans to discuss not only the biological implications, but also the chemistry behind these reactions within the body. Much of the process on why the interactions between FNOR and nitric oxide react to form nitrous oxide stem from the chemical structure of these compounds. This, along with further details on the biological function of nitric oxide in biology will be explained in Lehnert’s seminar on his research.

For anyone interested in understanding more on the chemical importance of nitric oxide and current research being done on the subject, this presentation would be the place to go. It will be hosted by the Department of Chemistry at Michigan Tech, and is open to any student interested in attending and learning more.