Scientists have revealed that vitamin B12 morphs into a gymnast as soon as it gets into the body. This is because they have mapped its twisting and turning as part of a crucial reaction called methyl-transfer.
University of Michigan Health System and MIT scientists captured these contorting images in 3-D for the first time, by aiming intense beams of X-rays at crystallized forms of the protein complex and painstakingly determining the position of every atom inside.
Methyl-transfer is a reaction vital both in human cells and in a slightly different way, in the cells of bugs that consume carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, the journal Nature reports, citing a statement from the varsity and MIT.
"Without this transfer of single carbon units involving B12, and its partner B9 (otherwise known as folic acid), heart disease and birth defects might be far more common," explained Stephen W. Ragsdale, Michigan professor of biological chemistry, who led the study.
"Similarly, the bacteria that rely on this reaction would be unable to consume carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide to stay alive - and to remove gas from our guts or our atmosphere. So it's important on many levels," he added.
Researchers used B12 complexes from another type of CO2-munching bugs found in the murky pond bottoms for experiments.
These 3-D images show the intricate molecular juggling needed for B12 to serve its biologically essential function. Ragsdale notes that this methyl-transfer reaction is crucial to human health.
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamine and one of the eight B vitamins, is water-soluble, playing a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and for blood formation.