Chelates and Chelating Agents

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Chelating agents are compounds which can fold to form multiple bonds with a single metal ion; the more of these bonds that are formed within a single chelate, the stronger the resultant complex will be. In nature, chelate complexes are essential to life functions. Heme chelating agents bond with iron ions to form hemoglobin chelates, which in turn carry oxygen through the bloodstream. In plants, chlorophyll contains magnesium chelates that absorb light energy for photosynthesis. Even mussels use chelation to strengthen the threads that allow them to cling to surfaces.

Various industries have also adapted uses for these versatile compounds. Gadolinium chelate complexes are used as MRI contrasts, and gold complexes are used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Chelation treatment is used in heavy-metal detoxification to nullify the effects of poisonous metals so that the body can excrete them without further damage. Chelates are especially vital in fertilizers – differing ionic charges can prevent plants from absorbing vital minerals from the soil, but chelates encapsulate these ions, changing their charges and allowing them to be absorbed. The strength of these bonds also help the minerals to be more effectively distributed throughout the plant, preventing tip burn and other localized issues.

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