Biophysics Earth's habitability Intelligent Design

At Evolution News: Zinc and the Miracle of Man

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David Coppedge draws our attention to zinc and its essential role in maintaining our health. The hierarchy of interdependent systems that contribute to zinc’s availability and use highlights again evidence for design.

Zinc is element 30 in the periodic table, and the most abundant metal in the body after iron. Even so, we only carry about three grams of zinc by weight. That trace amount should not be disparaged: it is vital for 10 percent of the proteins and enzymes in our cells. In his earlier book The Miracle of the Cell (2020), Denton devoted two pages to zinc, listing the varieties of some 300 enzymes that rely on its unique properties. Last year, in an article about metals in proteins, Casey Luskin mentioned several important functions that zinc enzymes perform. 

One important zinc enzyme Denton focuses on is carbonic anhydrase. It converts CO2 in our cells to bicarbonate, and then reverses the reaction in the lungs. As a result, the end product of oxidative metabolism — carbon dioxide — gets safely breathed out into the air for plants to take in. And that’s not all:

Carbonic anhydrase also aids in the regulation of fluid and pH balance and is involved in producing essential stomach acid. The enzyme also plays a role in vision. When it is defective, fluid can build up and cause glaucoma. The enzyme is one of the fastest known, catalyzing up to one million reactions per second. [Emphasis added.]

Clearly, we could not live without those three grams of zinc. But how does a metal as ideal as this get into the food chain? 

Getting Zinc from Crust to Soil

First, it must be available in crustal rock. Zinc is not rare, but a kilogram of rock on average only has 70 milligrams of zinc (JLab Science Education), demoting it to the 23rd most abundant element in the crust (USGS). Hydrothermal vents and volcanoes transport zinc to the surface most often as sphalerite (, a compound with iron and sulfur, which is mined throughout the world. While zinc has many applications for industry, our interest here is how it becomes available to living things. Sphalerite has cleavage planes and a relatively low hardness that make it easy to fragment, but it would never reach plant roots without help from the Earth’s amazing water cycle.

Photo: Zinc, by Alchemist-hp (talk) (, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons.

Getting Zinc from Soil to Cell

The “zinc cycle” continues with zinc transported by water to soil. Clay minerals, Denton notes, have a thousand-fold more surface area than sand. Because of their layered structure and electrical charges, clays attract water molecules and can hold them much longer, defying the gravity that would drain soil dry quickly. Roots from plants that penetrate soil’s sands and clays, however, depend on microbes able to take up minerals such as zinc and deliver them to the root hairs. 

Getting Zinc from Leaf to Human

Herbivores and carnivores benefit from the zinc in the leaves, fruits, and seeds of plants. Harvard Nutrition Source says that the trace amount of zinc in our bodies “is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system.” And when sperm meets egg, zinc puts on a fireworks show!

Good plant sources of zinc include legumes, whole grains, and nuts. Meats, poultry, and seafood are rich animal sources of zinc. While zinc deficiency is rare in developed countries, it can cause loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, and other issues. Excess zinc can also be unhealthy, but the body normally regulates zinc homeostasis, maintaining the three-gram optimum.

That leads us finally to the news: a paper last month in Cell by Weiss et al. announced, “Zn-regulated GTPase metalloprotein activator 1 modulates vertebrate zinc homeostasis.” The prevention of zinc deficiency or overdose is regulated by a newly identified metalloprotein family, named ZNG1, that flies into action in situations of zinc starvation.

Erik Skaar of Vanderbilt University says:

We think that when the body is starved for zinc, ZNG1 ensures that zinc gets delivered to the most important zinc-containing proteins,” Skaar said. “This opens up an exciting new area of biology, where we have these regulatory factors controlling a number of different physiological processes through metal insertion.

This short venture into the zinc cycle illustrates once again that the closer you look at intelligently designed biological systems, the more specified complexity you find.

Evolution News

Zinc’s unassuming but crucial role for our health begins with prior astronomical processes that deliver sufficient zinc to the Earth’s crust. Further processes consistent with intelligent design involve Earth’s volcanically active geology and continue with Earth’s amazing water cycle, soil formation ecology, the “benevolent job of microbes in the ecological nutrient cycle,” and the atomic properties of zinc that facilitate the homeostasis of the ideal amount of zinc within our bodies for optimal health.

2 Replies to “At Evolution News: Zinc and the Miracle of Man

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    of related note:

    Proteins prove their metal – July 2010
    Excerpt: ‘Nearly half of all enzymes require metals to function in catalysing biological reactions,’ Kylie Vincent, of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry tells us. ‘Both the metal and the surrounding protein are crucial in tuning the reactivity of metal catalytic centres in enzymes.’ These ‘metal centres’ are hives of industry at a microscopic scale, with metals often held in a special protein environment where they may be assembled into intricate clusters inside proteins.

    The Classic Metal Behind the Origins of Life – March 24, 2016
    Excerpt: The Metallome
    A list of life-supporting metals with illustrative biological functions.*
    Sodium: nerve function, osmotic pressure balance, and charge stability of cell
    Potassium: nerve function, osmotic pressure balance, and charge stability of cell
    Magnesium: plant photosynthesis, structure stabilizer
    Calcium: skeletal structure forming (teeth, bones), control signal trigger
    Vanadium: catalyst for oxygen reactions, possibly involved in oxygen transport
    Chromium: possibly involved in insulin function
    Manganese: activator of certain enzymes, plant photosynthesis Iron: oxygen transport and storage, electron transport catalyst
    Cobalt: cell division, a constituent of vitamin B12
    Nickel: hydrogen activation, catalytic protection from toxic superoxide
    Copper: respiratory chain electron transport catalyst, catalytic protection from toxic superoxide
    Zinc: super acid catalyst, enzyme activator, blood pH control
    Molybdenum: nitrogen fixation in plants, oxygen atom transfer catalyst
    Tungsten: oxygen atom transfer catalyst
    * This list contains metals that support essential life processes. The list is not meant to be complete for all organisms and not all organisms may require all of the above metals. However, some metallome elements are required by all living cells, such as iron, which is a necessary nutrient for more than 99 percent of all known cells. The metals of the metallome, while they serve specific life enabling functions, can also be toxic if present in the wrong cellular location at the wrong concentration. Hence the metallome, while essential, must be carefully controlled by the genome and proteome in a living system.

    The Concentration of Metals for Humanity’s Benefit – 2009
    Excerpt: They demonstrated that hydrothermal fluid flow could enrich the concentration of metals like zinc, lead, and copper by at least a factor of a thousand. They also showed that ore deposits formed by hydrothermal fluid flows at or above these concentration levels exist throughout Earth’s crust. The necessary just-right precipitation conditions needed to yield such high concentrations demand extraordinary fine-tuning. That such ore deposits are common in Earth’s crust strongly suggests supernatural design.,,,

    Of interesting sidenote:

    Earth’s mineralogy unique in the cosmos – Aug. 2015
    Excerpt: Nearly a decade ago, Hazen developed the idea that the diversity explosion of planet’s minerals from the dozen present at the birth of our Solar System to the nearly 5,000 types existing today arose primarily from the rise of life. More than two-thirds of known minerals can be linked directly or indirectly to biological activity, according to Hazen.,,,
    ,,, statistical analysis of mineral distribution and diversity suggested thousands of plausible rare minerals either still await discovery or occurred at some point in Earth’s history,,,
    The team predicted that 1,563 minerals exist on Earth today, but have yet to be discovered and described.,,,
    Earth’s mineralogy is unique in the cosmos,” Hazen said.

    Minerals and Their Uses
    Every segment of society uses minerals and mineral resources everyday. The roads we ride or drive on and the buildings we live learn and work in all contain minerals.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    NIH Professional Fact Sheet on Zinc. Always take zinc after a zinc ionophore, such as quercetin or green tea. The ionophore allows more zinc into your cells than the normal zinc transport system does.

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