Getting the Lead Out
Chemist Hilary Godwin:
Investigating the Chemistry of Lead Poisoning
Hilary Godwin Is an Atomic Sleuth
Chemist Godwin investigates how lead disrupts protein function.
How is lead toxic to kids?
Changes a protein's shape
Interferes with gene function
Displaces calcium and zinc inside proteins
Answer: Lead can damage the brain and nervous system
Lead poisoning is linked to
High levels of lead in routine blood tests: often the first symptom of lead poisoning in children
2.2 percent of American children age 1-5 years have blood levels of lead measuring at least 10 micrograms per deciliter.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Where Do We Find Lead?
Lead contaminants can be found in
Older homes containing lead paint
Old pipes and pipe sealants
Lead dust residues in soil from gasoline formulated with lead up until the mid-1980s
Lead Is a Metal Thief
Lead (Pb) can attach tightly to proteins, knocking out key metals such as zinc (Zn) or calcium (Ca), which are needed for good health.
Lead can disrupt gene function:
Misshapen proteins cannot interact properly with genes (DNA)
Lead can displace metals in proteins that switch genes on or off
Lead's Molecular Damage
Godwin's Metal Test
Godwin uses analytic chemistry to determine how tightly lead binds with proteins.
Nothing Good About Lead
Severe lead poisoning can damage the nervous system
Lead toxicity can cause anemia
Lead poisoning is associated with male infertility
"Good Metals" Help Body Chemistry
Metals work with the body's enzymes to speed up healthful chemical reactions
"Good metals" (e.g., calcium, zinc, cobalt) are important dietary staples
Could other metals be used to displace lead from body molecules?