U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Research Summary/In Plain Language

Research in Plain Language

Almost all organisms need iron. Every cell in the human body requires this nutrient. Iron plays a role in most major metabolic processes in the cell. Low iron levels are the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It particularly affects children and women of childbearing age. Low iron levels cause anemia. Anemia is a decrease in the number of healthy red blood cells available to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency also impairs development and function of the nervous system. Scientists have a good understanding of anemia. However, they do not yet understand other iron deficiency expressions.

Iron can also kill cells.  Iron overload plays a role in an increasing number of human diseases. These include genetic disorders and chronic inflammatory diseases. Our laboratory focuses on the genetics and cell biology of iron absorption and use. We have identified and characterized systems of iron transfer in baker’s yeast. This organism has well-defined genetics. Recently, we have focused on the intracellular transport and distribution of iron cofactors. Cofactors are substances that an enzyme needs to work. We conduct these studies in yeast and mammalian cells.

Mammalian cells express hundreds of metalloproteins. Metalloproteins are proteins that contain a metal and require it to function properly.Most contain the abundant metals iron and zinc. Others contain various trace metals such as copper and manganese. The inclusion of the metal ion(s) into metalloproteins is essential. However, scientists do not yet understand the steps in this process. We try to understand the biology of iron use in human health and disease. Our studies combine yeast genetics, mammalian cell biology, and mice experiments. ​