June, 2011Assistant Professor of Chemistry Zachary Tonzetich in The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Sciences will receive $150,000 from The Welch Foundation over the next three years to study the reactivity of transition metals such as iron, cobalt and manganese with hydrogen sulfide. Tonzetich will be the fifth UTSA chemistry professor with active funding from The Welch Foundation, following department chair Waldemar Gorski, associate professors Banglin Chen and Cong-Gui Zhao and assistant professor Doug E. Frantz.
Transition metals, such as iron found in blood, exist in the body in regulated concentrations often bound to proteins. In general, metal ions can serve as signals for biological processes or as catalysts, which make chemical reactions more efficient and higher yielding using less energy. Tonzetich’s team will study how transition metal ions react with hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which serves as a signaling agent in the body and is believed to play a role in hibernation.
“It is critical that we gain a better understanding of how hydrogen sulfide binds to transition metals in the body, what the nature of these bonds are, and how the body uses H2S at a molecular level,” said Tonzetich. “With the support of The Welch Foundation, we will examine the fundamental coordination chemistry of hydrogen sulfide. As we learn more about how this small molecule interacts with transition metals, we hope to be able to provide biologists and biochemists with a more complete picture of its chemistry in the body.”
Fundamental chemistry research, such as Tonzetich’s, is critical to the development of new drugs that target and manipulate the body’s many biological pathways. Pfizer’s Viagra, for example, is based on fundamental research demonstrating that nitric oxide affects blood vessel constriction. Cancer drugs and vaccines target other pathways in the body.
Tonzetich joined the UTSA Department of Chemistry last fall after completing his doctorate degree in 2007 and a subsequent three-year postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. His research specialties include synthetic inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry, catalysis, structure and bonding, spectroscopy, kinetics and reaction mechanisms.
The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, is one of the nation’s largest and oldest private funding sources for chemistry research. It primarily supports researchers at Texas institutions of higher education.
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