One way to understand the importance of enzymes is in this simple truth: every plant, animal, human being and microorganism on earth produces them. Their purpose (for those of us who were paying attention during biology lessons) is to catalyse a biochemical reaction. That means they speed up the reaction, by lowering the rate of what’s called its ‘activation energy’.
For the rest of us, who were otherwise engaged during those long afternoons, enzymes are nature’s extremely efficient way of performing a particular activity. That could be breaking down the food we eat to release its energy, or transforming the forest floor into a rich growing medium for new plants.
Humans recognized this effect thousands of years ago. One of the earliest examples of industrial enzyme use was for clarifying and filtering wine and beer. Today, enzymes are used in many industries: from textile production to bakery products; from renewable biofuels to the ‘greener’ production of tires and adhesives.
In fact, the use of industrial enzymes is nearly always beneficial to the environment. They invariably replace or reduce the use of petrochemicals, and our reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. For example, an enzyme used to break down or ‘digest’ stains on our laundry enables washing machines to perform efficiently at 30º C, using much less energy. Enzymes are also biodegradable, reducing the amount of industrial and chemical waste going to landfill.
View the slide show and video on the right for a closer look at enzymes and how they’re used in bioindustrial applications. (We’ve also provided an FAQ and Glossary to make sure you’ll pass the pop quiz.)