When it comes to the environment, most people think big: wind farms, acres of solar panels, shrinking CO2 emissions by the ton. But one of the biggest changes in the way the world works today is small – on the molecular scale. Enzymes are essential for life –they break up hydrogen peroxide (an important germicide made by white blood cells), help us digest our food, and “unzip” DNA. Humans have been using them for thousands of years to make cheese and beer. Today, they are an invisible presence in modern life that nevertheless greatly change the way we do things.
Enzymes act as catalysts, making chemical reactions occur up to a million times faster than they would otherwise occur if left unaided. Reactions that would normally require a great deal of energy can therefore take place at much lower temperatures, thereby saving electricity, money, and cutting back on CO2 emissions. They are used in biofuel production, breaking complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that can be readily fermented into ethanol. They are involved in agriculture, helping plants take up nutrients from the soil more readily. And where would the life sciences be without trypsin to gently remove cells from the culture surface without killing them?
Not only do enzymes make reactions much more efficient, each molecule is capable of handling up to 10.000 reactions before the enzyme gets degraded. This means that a miniscule amount is needed for whatever application you might use them for: in a 2-kg box of powdered laundry detergent, for example, a scant 20g of that quantity is enzyme – and most of that weight, approximately 19g of it, is stabilizer.
Using enzymes minimizes the amount of resources that are required to complete the task, but enzymes contribute to sustainability efforts in other ways, as well. Enzymes are not “made” in the traditional sense – bacteria and/or yeasts are modified to express the enzymes, which are then extracted and purified. No forests need to be cut down, no lands need to be strip-mined. They are the ultimate renewable resource.
What is next for these miraculous molecules? Who knows – the vast increase in gene sequencing capabilities in the life sciences today will only enhance the discovery of more enzymes tomorrow. Perhaps there may one day be enzymes capable of dissolving the plastic microbeads that currently plague water-treatment stations. But as we become increasingly aware of what it means to be sustainable, enzymes will most certainly play a major role in how we achieve that.
The Sirius Effect:
Sirius International is dedicated to efforts to enhance sustainability and minimize impact. Our enzyme line, Britase, consists of several different amylases, lipases, and proteases. Would you like to find out if you have a job that enzymes can do? Call us and find out.