The Biological Significance of Oxygen-Derived Species

  • Barry Halliwell


When living organisms first appeared on Earth, they did so under an atmosphere containing very little O2, i.e., they were essentially anaerobes. Anaerobic microorganisms survive to this day, but their growth is inhibited and they can often be killed by exposure to 21% O2, the current atmospheric level. As the O2 content of the atmosphere rose (due to the evolution of organisms with photosythetic watersplitting capacity), many primitive organisms probably died. Presentday anaerobes are presumably the descendants of those primitive organisms that followed the evolutionary path of adapting to rising atmospheric O2 levels by restricting themselves to environments that the O2 did not penetrate. However, other organisms began the evolutionary process of developing antioxidant defense systems to protect against O2 toxicity. In retrospect, this was a fruitful path to follow since organisms that tolerated the presence of O2 could also evolve to use it for metabolic transformation (oxidases, oxygenases, etc.) and for efficient energy production by using electron transport chains with O2 as the terminal electron acceptor, such as those present in mitochondria.


Nitric Oxide Antioxidant Defense Chronic Granulomatous Disease Allyl Alcohol Mitochondrial Electron Transport Chain 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

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  • Barry Halliwell

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