Tungsten, at atomic number 74, is the heaviest element known to be biologically functional, with the next heaviest being iodine (Z = 53). It is used by some bacteria, but not in eukaryotes. For example, enzymes called oxidoreductases use tungsten similarly to molybdenum by using it in a tungsten-pterin complex with molybdopterin (molybdopterin, despite its name, does not contain molybdenum, but may complex with either molybdenum or tungsten in use by living organisms). Tungsten-using enzymes typically reduce carboxylic acids to aldehydes. The tungsten oxidoreductases may also catalyse oxidations. The first tungsten-requiring enzyme to be discovered also requires selenium, and in this case the tungsten-selenium pair may function analogously to the molybdenum-sulfur pairing of some molybdenum cofactor-requiring enzymes. One of the enzymes in the oxidoreductase family which sometimes employ tungsten (bacterial formate dehydrogenase H) is known to use a selenium-molybdenum version of molybdopterin. Although a tungsten-containing xanthine dehydrogenase from bacteria has been found to contain tungsten-molydopterin and also non-protein bound selenium, a tungsten-selenium molybdopterin complex has not been definitively described.
In soil, tungsten metal oxidizes to the tungstate anion. It can be selectively or non-selectively imported by some prokaryotic organisms and may substitute for molybdate in certain enzymes. Its effect on the action of these enzymes is in some cases inhibitory and in others positive. The soil's chemistry determines how the tungsten polymerizes; alkaline soils cause monomeric tungstates; acidic soils cause polymeric tungstates.
Sodium tungstate and lead have been studied for their effect on earthworms. Lead was found to be lethal at low levels and sodium tungstate was much less toxic, but the tungstate completely inhibited their reproductive ability.
Tungsten has been studied as a biological copper metabolic antagonist, in a role similar to the action of molybdenum. It has been found that tetrathiotungstates may be used as biological copper chelation chemicals, similar to the tetrathiomolybdates.
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