So as you will see from our first few lines it has taken me and John a little bit longer to get to writing our blog than we anticipated. As with the best laid plans of ‘mice and men’ things never run to plan, and when you’re running on a beamline that costs ~£1K per hour the only response to set-backs is more graft (and little sleep).
So why are we putting our-selves through this and denying ourselves a comfortable weekend with the family….and you could ask why every chemist we know are envious and would consider what we are going through the best of ‘holidays’, so much so that we asked if any PhD chemist wanted to come along and there was a stampede…..at the front climbing over the bodies of his colleagues was Ashley (Brew – a willing ‘slave’ kindly volontereed by Prof Gary Attard, Chemistry, Cardiff Uni.)
Well we are here to look at Slugs and Snail (no puppy dogs tails in sight)….but serious invertebrates have some of the most facinating and intregate metal handling systems in all of biology and the deminutive ‘slugs’ and ‘snails’ that we take so much for granted (John now regrets throwing his molluscs into the garden next door) have a particular requirement for Ca (the shell being the clue) but also a less obvious affinity for manganese (Mn). What is particularly interesting is that these two similar molluscs when experiencing Mn distributed around their organs in very distinct ways and (we think) in very different chemical forms. It is to investigate this last point that brings us to the Diamond light source. It is only in a handful of places in the world where scientists have the ability to use an X-ray beam intense enough to allow us to not only image where the metals are distributed within the organism but also to determine the ‘nature’ of the metals (its chemical state – the so called speciation of the metal).
OK so it sounds interesting but why should anyone else care what invertebrates do with manganese…..Well this essential micro nutrient in excess is implicated in neurological disease including Parkinsons. It is also a ‘pretty neat’ metal as it has the ability to change its ‘nature’ (speciation) forming a range of compounds all of which have quite unique chemical properties, some toxic, some less so. Therefore, as usual we have spectacular models in which to study the biology of manganese (biomineralisation) …this is where our slugs and snails come into play. Furthermore, we have found an ideal ‘natural’ laboratory where these organisms experience high manganese in their everyday environment – and as with all the best field sites this one is on the side of a stunning Welsh Mountain in the vicinity of Harlech, Harlech Dome (yes it’s in that song which once heard never leaves your consciousness, and defines John and Pete as true MEN OF HARLECH).
Here’s a picture of the beautiful Welsh hillside…our lab of choice !!