What is myoglobin and what does it do?

To most of us, the word protein conjures up images of meat and gym rats furiously chugging down whey supplements. But there’s a lot more to these complex molecules than just bulging biceps and after-workout splurges at fast food outlets. One such unsung hero in this diverse range of compounds is myoglobin (1).

In simple terms, myoglobin is what gives beef its red color, but its role doesn’t end there – this minuscule molecule turns out to be critical to our very survival as well. In today’s article, we dive into the complexities of myoglobin as we attempt to understand what it does and how it affects our body functions.

Dissecting The Nonchalant — What Exactly Is Myoglobin?

Most people can rattle off several examples if asked about proteins that are essential for living organisms like insulin or hemoglobin (for carrying oxygen). On the other hand, when it comes to myoglobin, few pause long enough before admitting they have no idea whatsoever on what this chemical entity truly represents.

Simply put – myo refers to muscles, while globin stands for any number of related small globular proteins present in blood plasma or cells. When placed together, myoglboin describes a muscle cell’s internal respiratory pigment contractile protein which enables tissues powering respiration by supplying oxygen released from the bloodstream through breathing.

The singular purpose behind every protein lies in their structures; here too-, myoglobins depend upon compact cylindrical microscopical hemes rich in iron-with roles so fascinating that deserve separate mention themselves(2)!


At first glance, given all scientific discussions around it might sound obnoxious- But once you zone in on it, there’s something intimately compelling about this molecule that has captivated scientists and researchers since its discovery over 100 years ago.

The Catching Nature Of Myoglobin’s Key Features

The very first myoglobin molecules were discovered back in 1853 by German biochemist Max von Pettenkofer (impressive huh?). Since then, a lot of headway has been made towards understanding the nature and scope of the protein(2).

So far, studies have revealed these remarkable features:

Oxygen Binding

As mentioned earlier, myoglobin functions as an oxygen-binding site, providing essential tissues for survival. One unique trait residing within the heme-containing pocket where oxygen is stored is anchored by Histidine F8 using coordinative bonds. This creates a strong affinity between myoglobin and O2-pulled from blood vessels to travel out to cells requiring life-sustaining gases.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

While we’re on the topic of that handy binding process- Have you ever considered why carbon monoxide (CO) gas causes deadly harm? It does so because it binds more effectively than oxygen can – which means if CO successfully attaches itself to your body’s hemoglobins or myoglobins; it robs cells off vital energy-generating potential leading-in fatal consequences! (4)

Releasing Compressed Air Like Scuba Divers Do!

For those who have dived above water surface with scuba gear would know compressed air better suited for cramped underwater environments quickly released when resurfacing-no matter how slowly-harmlessly comes humming upwards until pressure equalizes uplifting bottle-to-buoyancy levels.

That said,breathtakingly similar scientific phenomenon occurs when diving into deep waters: As depths increase gradually higher pressure exerted through hemes enveloping upon reaching critical point-oppress spontaneously release air reserves facilitating buoyancy aids swimmers resurface incredibly fast but until air reserves depleted-fascinating indeed (6)!

So What Every Diver Needs to Know — One molecule Good, Two molecules Better

If you’re diving into the depths then building concentration of this atomically small lifesaver within your body is a wise idea. Studies(7) have shown that SCUBA divers who take 100% oxygen before taking their final plunge experience upto an 800% increase in myoglobin concentration; which translates to better absorption and transfer of gases across tissues during dives- now that’s something a diver can bank on (pun intended)!

On the larger front, athletes performing vigorous physical activities like weight-lifting also end up heavily relying on Myoglobin levels releasing adequate amounts(/no grams please/) helping these gym enthusiasts build bulk strength without suffering muscle tissue injuries.

Myo concnetration graph

Final Thoughts: Wrapping Up Your Molecular Musing

Whether its beef or blue whales, myoglobins play an irreplaceable role. They are what make possible the very process that allows us to breathe and keep our muscles functioning.

For being so tiny and seemingly unimportant at first glance- The nonchalance this wonder element portrays sustains life just as much as any other protein-stunned boggled amidst awe!

So let’s hear it for myoglobins – give them some love by adding more lean red meat or fish to your diet-nothing says ‘I appreciate you’ quite like grilled Salmon with omega3 fatty acids for sure!

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