We are constantly barraged with scientific publications and news media regarding issues pertaining to our health in regard to prevention and cures, product defects, food benefits and dangers, renewable energy, fossil fuels, global warming, climate change, and other concerns. The contradictions and reversals in opinions on many of these subjects make us question where the truth lies. This book is an unbiased overview and synopsis of the benefits and detriments of oxygen culminating from more than 56 years of theoretical and laboratory research by the author.
As delineated in the title of this book, the effects of oxygen in its multiple forms and compounds can be a benefit or detriment to our way of life especially to our health and to the world as we know it. These are important but very complex topics. In fact, even though the oxygen element was isolated and discovered in or around 1774 it will be obvious after reading this book that our understanding of the influence of this element has made great strides but in reality, we have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg for what lies before us in the future.
Mastering a subject or concept throughout decades of one’s professional career is one thing but taking the time and then having the patience and ability to assimilate and record the obtained wisdom and experience in a clear and concise document that contains details that can be read and understood by an outsider to the particular field is a totally different matter. This book provides such readily understandable sections for readers who are looking for information to initiate research on a particular issue that may be related to or affected by oxygen. But, just as important, the book also contains historical facts, theoretical and experimental scientific data, and detailed explanations with illustrations for a reader more experienced with chemistry, physics and/or biology who is seeking an in depth understanding in order to formulate his or her own opinions and conclusions regarding the benefits, detriments, and/or dangers associated with oxygen as related to a specific topic of interest.
For myself as one with a limited background in chemistry and biology obtained from college level freshman courses, it was refreshing to read an unbiased informative comprehensive treatise on what the scientific and medical communities have learned about oxygen up to this time in history. I believe anyone seeking knowledge on any of the many topics associated with oxygen will agree that this is a very comprehensive and well written book. So, read, enjoy, and become informed.
David A. Hullender
The University of Texas at Arlington
The facts of science are published daily in a bewildering flurry of information that arrives in scientific papers and is immediately summarized (often incorrectly) by the press and on the internet. This book was written with a broader view: to try to make sense of what we know, or think we know, and from my desire to understand and explain things. As a scientist through most of six decades, it has been a great pleasure to teach students at all college levels and my interests include microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, toxicology, and the history of science.
The specific focus of my research is oxygen and its role in health and disease. This includes oxygen free radicals, cellular defenses against the toxicity of oxygen, and the central role of oxygen in cellular metabolism. Oxygen’s dual nature was referred to as oxygen’s boon and bane by a colleague, Irwin Fridovich, and I have chosen these apt words in the title of this book. Contributions from my laboratory include: evidence that specific enzymes, but not enzymes in general, are sites of oxygen toxicity, and with Richard Seither, while a student, the discovery that hyperoxia induces genetic stringency in microbes. Stringency stops grown and metabolism and protects cells from damage.
I began laboratory research in the 1960s, an exciting time for scientists because of NASA and the stated objective by President John F. Kennedy to “Go to the moon and do it in this decade”. The US Space Program chose pure oxygen at low pressure for manned space flight. The Russian Space Program used larger rockets and chose a two-gas system of nitrogen and oxygen at atmospheric pressure because of the toxicity and fire hazard of pure oxygen. NASA’s choice ultimately led to a tragic fire on the ground in a test capsule filled with low-pressure, pure oxygen and caused the death of three Apollo 1 astronauts in 1967. My research on the mechanisms of oxygen toxicity was relevant to NASA’s Space Program and also to the Office of Naval Research where the toxicity of oxygen was a concern for deep sea diving.
This eBook was written to bring together in a popular science version, while remaining true to science, the many and varied aspects of oxygen, without which we cannot live for more than a few minutes, but which is lethal at concentration only a few times that found in the ordinary air we breathe.
Olen R. Brown
The University of Missouri
Scientific study, experimentation, and discovery brought together many individuals in my
laboratory and interactions with students; and generous and helpful colleagues contributed to
and helped me prepare to write this eBook. I thank them all with a gratitude borne out of
being fellow travelers in science and discovery. One of the great joys in science for me has
been the attempt to understand our world in the broadest sense that is reasonably possible.
Science is about asking the “how” questions. Answers are found in individual science
publications and other writings by scientists in fields from astronomy to zenobiotics
(chemicals, foreign to nature). In my lectures and study to understand science and especially
in writing this book, I have freely drawn on this body of work by many scientists from many
fields and obviously I make no claim of originality except for the research I have published.
I thank many talented individuals who created the images I have chosen to use from those
made available on the internet licensed as “free to modify, share, and use commercially”, and
those who generously provided other images I have acknowledged in figure legends.
I thank Cameron Brown for his assistance, especially for his computer skills with manuscript
preparation, and John Allan and Emily Brown, especially for their critical reading for content
and clarity, of this e-book.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The author confirms that author has no conflict of interest to declare for this publication.
List of Contributors
Olen R. Brown
The University of Missouri
Oxygen, the breath of life, by Dr. Olen R. Brown, is an extensively researched compilation of all things concerning oxygen and its role in biology. Topics run the gamut from the formation of the element oxygen after the big bang, to the use of oxygen in human therapy, and to the effect of reactive oxygen byproducts on human health. The book is written as a series of extensively referenced chapters that can be read individually as separate works. The book does a remarkable job covering the history of discoveries in this field with interesting vignettes on the individuals involved. As an experimental scientist, I gained a better understanding of how ideally adapted our lungs, circulatory system and blood are in the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. There is an excellent account of the development of oxygen therapy and its benefits and limitations. A strong point of the book is the linkage between the formation of very reactive oxygen by-products such as superoxide anion and hydroxyl radicals during oxygen respiration and the problems that these reactive chemicals can cause at the cellular level. But more significantly, Dr. Brown explains how damage at the cellular level leads to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s diseases, cardiovascular and lung disease, and aging. Through reading these chapters, you get an appreciation that it is normal for small amounts of reactive oxygen chemicals to form during our daily activities. Our bodies have the machinery to detoxify low levels of these chemicals. However, when genetic, physiological or environmental factors occur that result in increased formation of reactive oxygen chemicals then damage can occur. Dr. Brown provides first hand knowledge of his own research on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, reactive oxygen species and the mechanism by which damage occurs. Throughout the discussion, the reader can envision how molecular level reactions relate to the organ-level function or dysfunction. The book ends with futuristic thinking about the types of dwellings needed for humans to live under the ocean or in space and the realization that these building must be designed to avoid problems with hyperbaric and hypobaric oxygen conditions. For the most part, nonscientists can understand the material; however, I found that the chapters on reactive oxygen damage and human diseases to be technical and require knowledge of medical/scientific terminology for full understanding. If you are interested in quirky facts about oxygen, if you want to know how oxygen is used in our body, or if you want to understand how key human health issues are related to oxygen use, then this book will have the answers.
Michael J. McInerney
Professor of Microbiology
University of Oklahoma, USA
Overall the book is very appealing and would make a good reading to the biologists, chemists, and physicists, and to some extent non-scientists.
Babu V Bassa
Southern University, Baton Rouge, USA