Our understanding of the importance of metals in biology and medicine has become increasingly apparent in the last twenty years. To take two simple illustrations: the movement of electrons in the respiratory chain, accompanied by proton pumping would be impossible without iron in cytochromes and in iron-sulphur proteins; the toxicity of lead (causing saturnism, particularly among young children in socially deprived inner cities) finds its molecular explanation in the extraordinary high affinity of Pb (binding constant of 10 15 M) for a key Zn-dependent enzyme of haem biosynthesis. Europe has been in the forefront of this research effort, with the first three ICBICs (International Congresses on Bio-Inorganic Chemistry) taking place in Europe (Italy, Portugal and Holland).
Appropriately, this year, the tenth ICBIC meeting will again be held in Forence (with typically around 1000 participants). It has been clear from the outset that the study of metals in biological systems can only be approached by a multidisciplinary approach, involving many physical and biological sciences. Today, in addition to their importance in biology (and medicine), we are increasingly aware of the role of metals in the environment, not only as pollutants (Pb, Hg, Cd), but also as essential components of a healthy external milieu (requiring numerous trace metals). In order to ensure that Europe maintains its position in this important area, not only with its scientific implications, but also with its social impact, we need to train young scientists at the interface between physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and environmental sciences.
This has been successfully done over the last 15 years, and we are confident that the EC will recognise the importance of this activity in supporting our effort once again to close the gap between quantum physics, molecular biology, medical science and the environment.