Enzymes are macromolecular biological catalysts. Enzymes accelerate, or catalyze, chemical reactions. The molecules at the beginning of the process are called substrates and the enzyme converts these into different molecules, called products. Almost all metabolic processes in the cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates fast enough to sustain life. The set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in that cell. The study of enzymes is called ''enzymology''.
Enzymes are known to catalyze more than 5,000 biochemical reaction types. Most enzymes are proteins, although a few are catalytic RNA molecules. Enzymes' specificity comes from their unique three-dimensional structures.
Like all catalysts, enzymes increase the rate of a reaction by lowering its activation energy. Some enzymes can make their conversion of substrate to product occur many millions of times faster. An extreme example is orotidine 5'-phosphate decarboxylase, which allows a reaction that would otherwise take millions of years to occur in milliseconds. Chemically, enzymes are like any catalyst and are not consumed in chemical reactions, nor do they alter the equilibrium of a reaction. Enzymes differ from most other catalysts by being much more specific. Enzyme activity can be affected by other molecules: inhibitors are molecules that decrease enzyme activity, and activators are molecules that increase activity. Many drugs and poisons are enzyme inhibitors. An enzyme's activity decreases markedly outside its optimal temperature and pH.
Some enzymes are used commercially, for example, in the synthesis of antibiotics. Some household products use enzymes to speed up chemical reactions: enzymes in biological washing powders break down protein, starch or fat stains on clothes, and enzymes in meat tenderizer break down proteins into smaller molecules, making the meat easier to chew.
== Etymology and history ==
By the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the digestion of meat by stomach secretions and the conversion of starch to sugars by plant extracts and saliva were known but the mechanisms by which these occurred had not been identified.
French chemist Anselme Payen was the first to discover an enzyme, diastase, in 1833. A few decades later, when studying the fermentation of sugar to alcohol by yeast, Louis Pasteur concluded that this fermentation was caused by a vital force contained within the yeast cells called "ferments", which were thought to function only within living organisms. He wrote that "alcoholic fermentation is an act correlated with the life and organization of the yeast cells, not with the death or putrefaction of the cells."
In 1877, German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne (1837–1900) first used the term ''enzyme'', which comes from Greek ἔνζυμον, "leavened", to describe this process.〔Kühne coined the word "enzyme" in: The relevant passage occurs on page 190: ''"Um Missverständnissen vorzubeugen und lästige Umschreibungen zu vermeiden schlägt Vortragender vor, die ungeformten oder nicht organisirten Fermente, deren Wirkung ohne Anwesenheit von Organismen und ausserhalb derselben erfolgen kann, als ''Enzyme'' zu bezeichnen."'' (Translation: In order to obviate misunderstandings and avoid cumbersome periphrases, (author, a university lecturer ) suggests designating as "enzymes" the unformed or not organized ferments, whose action can occur without the presence of organisms and outside of the same.)〕 The word ''enzyme'' was used later to refer to nonliving substances such as pepsin, and the word ''ferment'' was used to refer to chemical activity produced by living organisms.
Eduard Buchner submitted his first paper on the study of yeast extracts in 1897. In a series of experiments at the University of Berlin, he found that sugar was fermented by yeast extracts even when there were no living yeast cells in the mixture. He named the enzyme that brought about the fermentation of sucrose "zymase". In 1907, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "his discovery of cell-free fermentation". Following Buchner's example, enzymes are usually named according to the reaction they carry out: the suffix ''-ase'' is combined with the name of the substrate (e.g., lactase is the enzyme that cleaves lactose) or to the type of reaction (e.g., DNA polymerase forms DNA polymers).〔The naming of enzymes by adding the suffix "-ase" to the substrate on which the enzyme acts, has been traced to French scientist Émile Duclaux (1840–1904), who intended to honor the discoverers of diastase – the first enzyme to be isolated – by introducing this practice in his book See Chapter 1, especially page 9.〕
The biochemical identity of enzymes was still unknown in the early 1900s. Many scientists observed that enzymatic activity was associated with proteins, but others (such as Nobel laureate Richard Willstätter) argued that proteins were merely carriers for the true enzymes and that proteins ''per se'' were incapable of catalysis.〔 quoted in 〕 In 1926, James B. Sumner showed that the enzyme urease was a pure protein and crystallized it; he did likewise for the enzyme catalase in 1937. The conclusion that pure proteins can be enzymes was definitively demonstrated by John Howard Northrop and Wendell Meredith Stanley, who worked on the digestive enzymes pepsin (1930), trypsin and chymotrypsin. These three scientists were awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.〔(【引用サイトリンク】 Nobel Prizes and Laureates: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1946 )〕
The discovery that enzymes could be crystallized eventually allowed their structures to be solved by x-ray crystallography. This was first done for lysozyme, an enzyme found in tears, saliva and egg whites that digests the coating of some bacteria; the structure was solved by a group led by David Chilton Phillips and published in 1965. This high-resolution structure of lysozyme marked the beginning of the field of structural biology and the effort to understand how enzymes work at an atomic level of detail.
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