If you have ever heard me talk about my biochemistry course, you have probably heard me talk about hemoglobin. Every semester I teach this course, I geek out to my students about this amazing protein. My voice gets more high pitched, I throw my hands in the air, and I exclaim “isn’t this so cool?!?” Inevitably, maybe because it is a morning class or maybe because science doesn’t make them nearly as excited as it makes me, the majority of them look at me like I’m crazy. But I’m holding my position, I will continue to promote the impressive biochemical functions of hemoglobin in hopes that at least one or two will join me in my enthusiasm.
Now you are all asking: Why is hemoglobin so amazing? Let me count the ways…
- The cooperativity between the protein subunits allows hemoglobin to pick up oxygen in our lungs and deliver it to our tissues. **This is why we can breathe and generate energy to fuel our cells**
- The binding of BPG facilitates the release of oxygen, and therefore the expression of BPG increases at higher altitudes to help you release more oxygen at lower air concentrations. **This is why runners train at higher altitudes**
- The subunits of fetal hemoglobin are different than the subunits of adult hemoglobin so that they have a lower affinity for BPG so that oxygen can be transferred from the mother’s blood to the fetus’s blood. **This is why you should always be nice to pregnant ladies; the fetus is stealing their oxygen**
- Carbon monoxide binds more tightly to hemoglobin than oxygen. **This is why you should not smoke and why we need to care about air pollution**
So breathe deep, fill your lungs with oxygen, imagine all the binding sites of your hemoglobin picking up oxygen, and run off to make the world a better place. Biochemistry, and the amazing hemoglobin, is allowing you to do it!