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Nickel is a fairly recent entry in our list of nutrients that are essential for nature, but it is now clear that nickel has a global impact, affecting many aspects of life on this planet. The history of our knowledge about nickel in biology is discussed in Chapter 1, which also highlights the breadth of nickel biological chemistry as well many of the common themes that emerge throughout the rest of the book. The intimate nature of the evolution of nickel use by many organisms, particularly in marine settings, and nickel biogeochemistry is examined in Chapter 2, and some of the ramifications of nickel exposure, with a focus on epigenetics, are reviewed in Chapter 3. The next chapters are about the nickel-utilizing proteins, starting with an overview of nickel coordination sites and the thermodynamics of the nickel-protein complexes in Chapter 4. This is followed by seven chapters that each provide a detailed description about one or two nickel enzymes. These chapters summarize our current understanding of the structure, function, and mechanisms of urease, [NiFe]-hydrogenase, carbon monoxide dehydrogenase and acetyl-CoA synthase, coenzyme M reductase, nickel superoxide dismutase, nickel utilizing glyoxylase I and, finally, lactate racemase.

Even though nickel is essential to many organisms, the toxic properties of this nutrient necessitate the use of many types of support systems that ensure that nickel is available only when and where it is needed. These pathways are the subjects of Chapters 12–14, which discuss membrane transporters, regulators, and metal delivery and storage systems, respectively. Not only are these factors responsible for controlling nickel distribution to the nickel enzymes, but they also provide selectivity filters to prevent other types of metals from replacing the cognate nickel ions, and vice versa. This issue comes up in many of the chapters, but is the particular focus of Chapter 15, which examines the selectivity mechanisms of cellular uptake in bacteria.

Finally, as our fundamental understanding of the biological chemistry of nickel matures, the potential for future applications is evident. For example, Chapter 16 summarizes the unique nickel requirements of pathogenic bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, which has become a paradigm for the importance of nickel in the virulence of infectious organisms. To address the area of specific applications, the last chapter of this book discusses new antimicrobial strategies, along with biotechnological techniques.

We would like to thank the authors of each of the chapters in this book for their willingness and enthusiasm in contributing to this project, and for their considerable efforts in preparing the extensive, comprehensive and up-to-date chapters. Their collective work provides an exhaustive description of the vibrant field of the biological chemistry of nickel, which brings together the chemistry, biology, biochemistry and pharmacology of nickel-containing biomolecules, allowing a deep understanding of how nickel is used in our world.

Deborah Zamble

Magdalena Rowińska-Żyrek

Henryk Kozłowski

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