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Methods Mol Biol. 2002;172:21-49.


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  • Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


This chapter describes the chemical and biological value of the calcium ion. In calcium chemistry, our main interest is in equilibria within static, nonflowing systems. Hence, we examined the way calcium formed precipitates and complex ions in solution. We observed thereafter its uses by humankind in a vast number of materials such as minerals, e.g., marble, concrete, mortars, which parallel the biological use in shells and bones. In complex formation, we noted that many combinations were of anion interaction with calcium for example in the uses of detergents and medicines. The rates of exchange of calcium from bound states were noted but they had little application. Calcium ions do not act as catalysts of organic reactions. In biological systems, interest is in the above chemistry, but extends to the fact that Ca2+ ions can carry information by flowing in one solution or from one solution to another through membranes. Hence, we became interested in the details of rates of calcium exchange. The fast exchange of this divalent ion from most organic binding sites has allowed it to develop as the dominant second messenger. Now the flow can be examined in vitro as calcium binds particular isolated proteins, which it activates as seen in physical mechanical changes or chemical changes and this piece-by-piece study of cells is common. Here, however, we have chosen to stress the whole circuit of Ca2+ action indicating that the cell is organized both at a basal and an activated state kinetic level by the steady state flow of the ion (see Fig. 11). Different time constants of exchange utilizing very similar binding constants lead to: 1) fast responses as in the muscle of an animal; or 2) slower change as in differentiation of an egg or seed. Many other changes of state may relate to Ca2+ steady-state levels of flow in the circuitry and here we point to two: 1) dormancy in reptiles and animals; and 2) sporulation in both bacteria and lower plants. In the other chapters of this volume many components of the overall circuitry will be described. The reader should try to marry these into the overall activity of the cell for on top of molecular biology there is the cooperative system molecular biology of cells. To give an analogy, whereas much can be understood from the analysis of the properties of single-isolated water molecules, even examining their interaction in ice, this study alone cannot lead to an appreciation of the melting or boiling points of bulk water.

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