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What are Enzymes?

Enzymes are catalysts that speed up chemical reactions in living organisms, they are proteins made up of long chains of amino acids. The amino acid chains can be different in each protein, so they can fold up into different shapes. The sequence of these animo acids is determined by instructions in a gene.

How do they work?/Why do we need Enzymes?

There are different types of enzymes, some of them break down large molecules into smaller ones. Other enzymes join smaller molecules together. In both cases, the molecules must fit exactly into a part of the enzyme known as the activce site, this is like a key fitting into a lock which was where the "lock-and-key" hypothesis was coined from.

The three stages of an enzyme at work.

At normal body temperature (37C) chemical reactions would happen too slowly keep you alive. One way of speeding up this reaction would be to increase the temperature of your body however this could damage your cells and you would need much more energy to sustain yourself. Because of this we use enzymes to increase the rate of reactions that we need, infact Enzymes increase the rate of reactions by up to 10,000,000,000 times, because of this it is not possible that a human could survive without enzymes.

How does temperature affect enyzmes?

Enzymes can be negatively affected by certain temperatures, for instance at really hot temperatures the reaction of enzymes stops altogether this is because the enzymes shape has been changed so molecules no longer fit into it. At low temperatures however enzymes simply perform much slower but enzyme reactions get faster the closer you get to their Optimal Temperature.

What does denatured mean and how can enzymes be denatured?

When the shape of an enzyme is changed it can never go back to it's original form, much like how when a cake is baked you can never change it back to a uncooked form. When this happens the enzyme is said to have been "Denatured". Enzymes can become denatured for multiple reasons, the most common of these is a high temperature however proteins can also be damaged by acids and alkalis, this changes the shape of the active site by breaking the bonds holding the protein chains together. Every enzyme will have a optimum pH at which it will work best.

What enzymes are there in humans?

There are a couple of different enzymes in humans. Pepsin is one enzyme that you would commonly find, it is used for breaking down proteins into short chains of amino acids, the optimal pH for pepsin is 2.0. Catalase is another enzyme commonly found in humans, it is used for breaking down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. The optimal pH of catalase is 7.6, much higher than Pepsin. Salivary Amylase is also found in the human body. Amylase is used for breaking down starch into sugar (maltose), the optimal pH for Amylase is 4.8. Sources of information - Science Textbook Wikipedia