What is an enzyme?
Nowadays it´s not difficult to find a precise definition of what an enzyme is. Independently of the degree of accuracy, all enzyme descriptions will include that they “are proteins that accelerate or drive chemical reactions, transforming the so called substrates into products”.
An enzyme must not be confused with conventional catalysts of inorganic or mineral origin such as potassium hydroxide, zeolites or copper or iron salts. Enzymes have a biological origin and are naturally produced by living beings.
” Enzymes are able to recognize and select the substrate to transform it into the desired product
Among their advantages over inorganic catalysts, enzymes show a high specificity; which means that enzymes are able to recognize and select the substrate to transform it into the desired product. They also have a high catalytic efficiency, accelerating reactions up to several million times. Further advantages of enzymes are their biodegradability , allowing a reduction of the environmental impact that can result from their use, while not requiring extreme operating conditions (high temperature, extreme pH values or salinity).
Operation of an enzyme
” Enzymes have many applications in the chemical, food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, among others.
Because of these and other advantages, enzymes have numerous applications in diverse industries, such as in the chemical/processes, food, pharmaceutical or cosmetic industries, among others. Very useful enzymes in our daily life are proteases, amylases or lipases which are used in detergents. Proteases remove blood or grass spots; amylases get rid of food waste such as sauces or purees and lipases remove oil or makeup.
Many of the available drugs are obtained or formulated from enzymes.
Business such as the food industry use enzymes to enhance flavor, help digestion, improve nutritional values of foods or reduce their allergenic effects, as is the case of lactase. This enzyme is used in the preparation of products for a lactose-free diet, breaking it down into sugars, glucose and galactose.
In the textile industry, they are used for treating fibers and textiles, for jeans they can be used for stonewashing, replacing other chemicals.
Cosmetics and personal care products include or use enzymes in their manufacturing process to improve their quality or properties.
In the paper industry, they are used for paper refining and bleaching, removing protective starch layers and improving the paper sheet properties such as strength, thickness or softness.
In the veterinary field enzymes are also used to improve products and the production process for the treatment of effluents, or nutraceuticals.
The use of enzymes in the production of second generation bioethanol (2G) is critical. Enzymes play a fundamental role in the degradation of lignocellulosic biomass contributing to the viability of the technology.
Enzymes are therefore biocatalysts with numerous applications, resulting in cheaper solutions for industrial processes and reducing their environmental impact. They are present in a surprising number of activities in our day to day lives.