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The Uses of Enzymes In industry and Medicine

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The Uses of Enzymes In industry and Medicine

Enzymes are biological catalysts, which control the biochemical
reactions in a cell. The function of each enzyme is determined by its
complex structure. The active site is where the reactions take place
and the rest of the enzyme acts as scaffolding.

All enzymes are proteins. They are made from amino acids. These are
made of five elements - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and
sulphur. The general structure of an amino acid molecule is shown


Amino acids are joined by condensation and a water molecule is
removed. The bond formed as a result between the two amino acids is
called a peptide bond. When two amino acids join together a dipeptide
is formed. Three amino acids form a tripeptide. Many amino acids form
a polypeptide. In a protein the polypeptide chain may be hundreds of
amino acids long. Amino acid polymerisation to form polypeptides is
part of protein synthesis. It takes place in ribosomes.

The protein structure is broken down into four levels; these are the
primary structure, the secondary structure, the tertiary structure and
the quaternary structure.

The primary structure is a sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide
chain. It determines the rest of the protein structure. Finding the
primary structure of a protein is called protein sequencing.

The secondary structure is held together by hydrogen bonds between the
carboxyl groups and the amino groups in the polypeptide backbone. The
two most common secondary structure motifs are the a-helix and the
b-sheet. In the a-helix the polypeptide chain is wound round to form a
helix. It is held together by hydrogen bonds running parallel with the
long helical axis. There are so many hydrogen bonds that this is a
very stable and strong structure. Below is a diagram of the a-helix:


In the b-sheet the polypeptide chain zigzags back and forward forming
a sheet of anti-parallel strands. Once again it is held together by
hydrogen bonds. Below is a diagram of the b-sheet:


The tertiary structure is the compact globular structure formed when a
whole polypeptide chain folds. Every protein has a distinctive
tertiary structure which is responsible for its properties and
function. The tertiary structure is held together by bonds between the
R groups of the amino acids in the protein, and so depends on what the
sequence of amino acids is. There are three kinds of bonds involved,
these are weak hydrogen bonds, rather strong ionic bonds that have a
positive or negative charge and sulphur bridges which are strong
covalent bonds.

Lastly there is the quaternary structure, this structure is found in
proteins containing more than one polypeptide chain, and simply means
how the different polypeptide chains are arranged together. The
individual polypeptide chains are usually globular, but can arrange
themselves into a variety of quaternary shapes.

I am now going to look at the uses of enzymes in industry. Firstly I
will be exploring the use of enzymes in textile industries. They are
used because they accelerate reactions, act only on specific
substrates, operate under mild conditions, are safe and easy to
control, can replace harsh chemicals and are biodegradable. In the
textiles industry enzymes are used during the finishing of fabric and
clothes. Cellulose is the main component of cotton as well as other
natural fibres. Although most of the fibres are long some of the
smaller fibres can obtrude from the fabric, these can be removed using
the cellulase in a process called biopolishing. The result is a
smoother, glossy fabric. Another use of enzymes in the textile
industry is in a process called biostoning; during this process
cellulase is put on the jeans to create a stonewashed effect without
as much damage being caused to the garment compared to using pumice
stones which were used originally.

Another industry that regularly uses enzymes is the bread baking
industry. The main component of bread is wheat flour which has
naturally occurring enzymes that change the starch, fibre and protein
in the flour when water is added. The yeast also has enzymes that make
the bread rise by fermenting and producing carbon dioxide. Enzymes are
used as supplements in the bread making process to make the process
more proficient. The enzymes used are xylanase, a-amylase, protease,
glucose oxidase and lipase which are activated when water is added to
make the dough. These make the dough easier to handle and control
taste, volume and texture. Enzymes used in baking usually need to be
thermo-labile which means that they denature while they are being
baked. The enzyme glucose oxidase oxides sulphydryl groups to make
dough more flexible and stronger. The reaction between enzymes and
parts of the bread dough is very complex and the wrong mixture of
cocktails can mean unfavourable effects on the dough and bread. If too
much enzyme was put in the dough the bread may not rise properly.

Enzymes have also been used in the detergent industry for over 40
years, particularly in laundry products such as biological washing
powder, liquid and tablets. Protease is the main enzyme used in
detergents and removes stains such as grass, blood, egg and human
sweat, although recently other enzymes such as lipase and amylase are
used as well. Lipases break down fats and oils and amylases help
remove starchy stains. Colour enhancing washing powders have now been
produced containing celluloses which remove cellulose fibrils that
dull the colour of the fabric due to the dirt trapped on the surface.
Synthetic enzymes greatly increased the cleaning efficiency of common
household detergents by accelerating the hydrolysis of animal fats
(such as glycerides) and oily food residues (including proteins) so
that they could be more rapidly dispersed and emulsified in water.
Detergent enzymes are well established as normal ingredients in both
powder and liquid detergents all over the world. The enzymatic
hydrolysis of tri-glycerides in alkaline solutions is used as a
measure of detergent efficiency. Many synthetic enzymes are derived
from quaternary ammonium compounds.

Further industries that use enzymes include the brewing industry. This
uses enzymes such as amylases, glucanases and proteases which are
added to unmalted barley and produce the same simple sugars and amino
acids as malting only more easily. Enzymes are also used to improve
filtration. Filtration rates are increased and fouling of filtration
membranes is prevented by adding xylanases or glucanases which break
down polysaccharides that slow the filtration down.

Enzymes are used in medicine in many different ways. An initial step
in detecting liver damage is a simple blood test to determine the
presence of certain liver enzymes in the blood. Under normal
circumstances, these enzymes reside within the cells of the liver. But
when the liver is injured, these enzymes are spilled into the blood
stream. Among the most sensitive and widely used of these liver
enzymes are the aminotransferases. They include aspartate
aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase (ALT or SGPT). These
enzymes are normally contained within liver cells. If the liver is
injured, the liver cells spill the enzymes into blood, raising the
enzyme levels in the blood and signalling the liver damage.

It is said that enzyme supplements can be helpful--if you have one of
the rare conditions that cause enzyme deficiency such as cystic
fibrosis, Gaucher's disease, and celiac disease are the leading
culprits. Certain enzymes can also help people with specific digestive
problems such as lactose intolerance, bloating, and gas. For genuine
cases of enzyme deficiency, confirmed by blood tests and assessment of
digestive status, doctors prescribe supplements such as Donnazyme,
Cotazyme, Creon, Pancrease, Ultrase, and Zymase. For people with
lactose intolerance, there's the over-the-counter remedy Lactaid. And
for those troubled by chronic gas, there's a product called Beano.
Enzyme supplements seek to maintain peak digestion by strengthening
the body's natural enzymes with ample supplements from other sources.
This is thought to reduce the body's workload, allowing the immune
system to flourish and ridding the system of toxic, only partially
digested nutrients.

The life of a cell is dependent on the many enzymes that float in the
cell's cytoplasm. Many different poisons work by disrupting the
balance of the enzymes in one way or another. For example, diphtheria
toxin works by gumming up the action of a cell's ribosomes, making it
impossible for the ribosome to move along the mRNA strand. The toxin
in a death-cap mushroom, on the other hand, gums up the action of RNA
polymerase and stops the transcription of DNA. In both cases, the
production of new enzymes shuts down and the cells affected by the
toxin can no longer grow or reproduce. An antibiotic is a poison that
works to destroy bacterial cells while leaving human cells unharmed.
All antibiotics take advantage of the fact that there are many
differences between the enzymes inside a human cell and the enzymes
inside a bacterium. If a toxin is found, for example, that affects an
E. coli ribosome but leaves human ribosomes unharmed, then it may be
an effective antibiotic. Streptomycin is an example of an antibiotic
that works in this way. Penicillin was one of the first antibiotics.
It gums up a bacterium's ability to build cell walls. Since bacterial
cell walls and human cell walls are very different, penicillin has a
big effect on certain species of bacteria but no effect on human
cells. The sulfa drugs work by disabling an enzyme that manages the
creation of nucleotides in bacteria but not in humans. Without
nucleotides, the bacteria cannot reproduce. Below is a diagram of how
enzymes are created.


Proteases are used in both wound therapy and as anti-inflammatory
reagents. In wound therapy there are used to quicken the healing
process by cleaning the wound, they are known as debriding agents.
Anti-inflammatory enzymes may help prevent many injuries that would
otherwise be unavoidable. Also, if you already have an injury,
supplementing enzymes in high doses will break down inflammation by
rapidly hydrolysing the waste products which collect around the
injured tissue, preventing scar tissue from forming, and speeding your

In the encyclopaedia an enzyme is described as a protein that
catalyses a specific reaction. There are many different uses for
enzymes in both industry and medicine, most of which I have explored
in this essay. Enzymes are often used in industry and medicine to make
processes more efficient, to get better quality results and as a
natural remedy for many medical problems. As well as curing medical
problems, using enzymes can also help you find the problems in the
first place. The diagnosis of certain disorders can be helped by
measuring the concentrations of various enzymes in the blood. After a
heart attack raised levels of heart enzymes occur as a result of
damage to the cells of the heart muscle. Some inherited diseases such
as Galactosaemia and Phenylketonuria are the result of deficiencies of
certain enzymes.










9. The New Illustrated Everyman's Encyclopedia

10. The Dictionary of Science

11. New Scientist Journal






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