Revista Digital Universitaria
Revista Digital Universitaria ISSN: 1607 - 6079 | Publicación mensual | 1 de diciembre de 2014 vol.15, No.12


Enzymes: what are they and how do they work?

Joaquín Ramírez Ramírez, Marcela Ayala Aceves

Enzymes are proteins, polymers composed by chemically bonded aminoacid molecules, which catalyze a wide range of chemicals reactions inside organisms. The catalytic activity of enzymes depends on their three-dimensional (3D) structure. Inside this 3D structures there are cavities, called “active site”, that shows affinity for specific molecules (called substrates) that will eventually become products. The combination of chemical functional groups in the active site creates covalent and non-covalent interactions between the protein and the substrate molecules; these interactions favor the conversion of substrates into products. As any catalyst, after the substrate transformation and once the product has been released from the active site, the enzyme returns to a basal or ground state and is ready to engage in a new catalytic cycle. Enzymes function outside cells, and historically men have used enzymes for their benefit. The most ancient enzyme applications are related to food, such as the production of bread and cheese. In this article we explain how efficient enzymes are and how do they work. We also present a brief account on the history of their discovery and the scientific breakthroughs that allowed the development of biocatalysis as one of the most significant biotechnologies in the modern era.

Keywords: enzyme, catalyst, biotechnology, biocatalysis, proteins