Iron chemistry at the service of life

Manu Sánchez, Laura Sabio, Natividad Gálvez, Mercè Capdevila, Jose M. Dominguez-Vera

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Iron is an essential element for almost all organisms on Earth. It is necessary for a number of crucial processes such as hemoglobin and myoglobin transport and storage of oxygen in mammals; electron transfer support in a variety of iron-sulfur protein or cytochrome reactions; and activation and catalysis of reactions of a wide range of substrate like alkanes, olefins, and alcohols. Living organisms adopted iron as the main metal to carry out all of these functions due to the rich coordination chemistry of its two main redox states, Fe2+ and Fe3+, and because of its abundance in the Earth's crust and oceans. This paper presents an overview of the coordination chemistry of iron that makes it suitable for a large variety of functions within biological systems. Despite iron's chemical advantages, organisms were forced to manage with some drawbacks: Fe3+ insolubility and the formation of toxic radicals, especially the hydroxyl radical. Iron chemistry within biology is an example of how organisms evolved by creating molecular machinery to overcome these difficulties and perform crucial processes with extraordinary elegance and efficiency. © 2017 IUBMB Life, 69(6):382–388, 2017.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-388
JournalIUBMB Life
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • coordination chemistry
  • iron
  • iron-binding proteins
  • oxygen


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