What are enzymes?

Find out how these biological catalysts work, where they're made and the benefits they bring to industry and the environment.

Enzymes are biologically active proteins found everywhere in nature. When one substance needs to be transformed into another, nature uses enzymes to speed up and control the process. This is called catalysis, so enzymes are catalysts.

How do enzymes work

An enzyme is a large molecule but only a small part of the molecule is involved in catalysis. This part is called the active site.

Each enzyme has a specific function; to break down a specific substance. This is called the enzyme’s substrate. At the active site, the enzyme and substrate fit together like a key in a lock. This targeted action makes enzymes highly efficient, and their results highly predictable. The enzyme itself remains unchanged by the reaction, so it can keep catalyzing further reactions. 

Where are enzymes made?

All living things make enzymes, but we collect ours from microbes. That’s because microbes are very effective enzyme producers. We ferment carefully selected microbes in three-story tanks. The tanks contain high oxygen concentrations and a rich broth of nutrients. This is the fermentation medium. The microbes multiply by millions, and as they break down and consume the nutrients, they produce the enzymes we need.

After fermentation we separate out the enzymes, leaving a mix of unused fermentation medium and microbes behind. Once we’ve removed all living and intact microorganisms from this mix, it is ready for use as top-grade farm fertilizer.

enzyme fermentation tank

Types of enzymes

Like all proteins, enzymes are made of strings of amino acids chemically bonded to one another. Between 100 and 35,000 amino acids sit like beads on a string in a sequence unique to each enzyme. Each enzyme’s unique structure determines its function.

The six classes of enzymes are oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases, isomerases and ligases. They’re generally named for the types of reactions they catalyze. We produce a wide range of enzyme types within most of these classes.

Our enzymes help make more than 30 industries more efficient and sustainable.

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The benefits of enzymes for industry and the environment

Chemical transformation processes have inherent drawbacks. Chemicals are not always specific, which can lead to lower product yields. Many chemical reactions need high temperatures and/or high pressure. These drive up energy costs. High temperatures might also mean a lot of water is needed for cooling, driving up costs further.

High chemical, energy and water consumption also have a negative impact on the environment. Enzymes can significantly reduce or even eliminate these drawbacks. They’re specific and biodegradable. Their reactions often happen under low temperatures and moderate pH levels. Also, because they remain unchanged by their reactions, they can keep on catalyzing. That means that even small amounts of them can carry out industrial-scale chemical reactions.

Smaller volumes being produced and transported means that enzymes have a smaller carbon footprint than chemicals.

Enzymes for sustainable carbon capture

Carbon capture is widely considered to be the only practical way to decarbonize industry. Our carbonic anhydrase enzymes can make the process more affordable and sustainable.

Watch the video to see how carbonic anhydrase captures millions of carbon dioxide molecules every second.

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