Lanthanide Chemistry: From Coordination in Chemical Complexes Shaping Our Technology to Coordination in Enzymes Shaping Bacterial Metabolism

Inorg Chem. 2016 Oct 17;55(20):10083-10089. doi: 10.1021/acs.inorgchem.6b00919. Epub 2016 Sep 2.


Lanthanide chemistry has only been extensively studied for the last 2 decades, when it was recognized that these elements have unusual chemical characteristics including fluorescent and potent magnetic properties because of their unique 4f electrons.1,2 Chemists are rapidly and efficiently integrating lanthanides into numerous compounds and materials for sophisticated applications. In fact, lanthanides are often referred to as "the seeds of technology" because they are essential for many technological devices including smartphones, computers, solar cells, batteries, wind turbines, lasers, and optical glasses.3-6 However, the effect of lanthanides on biological systems has been understudied. Although displacement of Ca2+ by lanthanides in tissues and enzymes has long been observed,7 only a few recent studies suggest a biological role for lanthanides based on their stimulatory properties toward some plants and bacteria.8,9 Also, it was not until 2011 that the first biochemical evidence for lanthanides as inherent metals in bacterial enzymes was published.10 This forum provides an overview of the classical and current aspects of lanthanide coordination chemistry employed in the development of technology along with the biological role of lanthanides in alcohol oxidation. The construction of lanthanide-organic frameworks will be described. Examples of how the luminescence field is rapidly evolving as more information about lanthanide-metal emissions is obtained will be highlighted, including biological imaging and telecommunications.11 Recent breakthroughs and observations from different exciting areas linked to the coordination chemistry of lanthanides that will be mentioned in this forum include the synthesis of (i) macrocyclic ligands, (ii) antenna molecules, (iii) coordination polymers, particularly nanoparticles, (iv) hybrid materials, and (v) lanthanide fuel cells. Further, the role of lanthanides in bacterial metabolism will be discussed, highlighting the discovery that lanthanides are cofactors in biology, particularly in the enzymatic oxidation of alcohols. Finally, new and developing chemical and biological lanthanide mining and recycling extraction processes will be introduced.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biotechnology
  • Coordination Complexes / chemistry*
  • Coordination Complexes / metabolism
  • Lanthanoid Series Elements / chemistry*
  • Lanthanoid Series Elements / metabolism
  • Metal-Organic Frameworks / chemistry*
  • Metal-Organic Frameworks / metabolism


  • Coordination Complexes
  • Lanthanoid Series Elements
  • Metal-Organic Frameworks
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase