ENZYMES. reflect. collagen: a group of proteins found in connective tissues of the body

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1 reflect Have you ever been told to take your vitamins? Many caregivers tell this to their children daily. However, most people do not understand what vitamins and minerals do and why they are so important. Whether consumed in food or in a pill, vitamins and minerals are essential for cellular health. The sole job of many of these compounds is to enable the function of enzymes. You may have heard the word enzyme, but what exactly are enzymes and how do vitamins and minerals help enzymes work? Enzymes and Coenzymes An enzyme is a molecule that changes the rate of a chemical reaction. They build and break down important molecules within a cell. Enzymes do this by facilitating biochemical reactions. You ll learn more about this particular function later in the lesson. Many enzymes do not function properly without the help of organic molecules called coenzymes and inorganic molecules called cofactors. Coenzymes and cofactors assist enzymes to promote their chemical reactions. This is how minerals and vitamins are involved. Consider the minerals zinc and magnesium. These minerals can be found in pill form and in different foods like almonds, squash, and pumpkin seeds. Zinc is a cofactor required by the enzyme that builds DNA. Magnesium is also an important cofactor for enzymes involved in DNA and RNA synthesis, as well as for enzymes that break down sugars to release energy. These minerals are important for cells that are in the process of dividing and building new DNA. Vitamin C is a coenzyme. It facilitates an enzyme that builds collagen. Different B vitamins, such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, are essential cofactors for enzymes that build and break down sugars, fats, and proteins. Many different illnesses can result from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Clearly, vitamins and minerals are important for cellular health because they enable the work of many enzymes. collagen: a group of proteins found in connective tissues of the body Enzyme Structure and Function Almost all enzymes are composed of amino acid chains. Except for a few made from RNA, most enzymes are proteins. These special proteins act as the manual workforce molecules of cells. 1

2 The functions of a living cell involve thousands of biochemical reactions. Together, these reactions are referred to as cellular metabolism. Metabolic reactions include the building of important molecules, such as the phospholipids of a cell membrane. They also include the breaking down of important molecules, such as glucose, to yield energy. During a biochemical reaction, reactants are modified into products. A reactant is a substance that undergoes a chemical change and yields a product of that change. Enzymes are referred to as catalysts because they catalyze biochemical reactions. This means that they increase the rate of the reactions. In order for a reaction to occur, it must be energetically favorable. In other words, there must be a net release of energy from the reaction. Energy is defined as the capacity to do work. However, most reactions, even while energetically favorable, require a small amount of energy input to reach a state in which the reaction can proceed. This small amount of energy is called activation energy (E A. ). Consider, for example, two reactants that must combine in order to form a product. They must be aligned side-by-side in the proper orientation. Chemical bonds must then weaken and break in order for new bonds to form. Perhaps heat energy from the cellular environment will provide the energy necessary to facilitate this reaction. However, an enzyme may instead bind to the reactants and bring them together. The enzyme might also physically bend the reactants to facilitate bond-breaking. This would reduce the need for heat energy. Therefore, enzymes increase reaction rates by lowering the activation energy required for reactions to occur. Activation energy with enzyme (E A ) Activation energy without enzyme (E A ) Activation energy is the level of energy required in order for a reaction to begin. With the assistance of enzyme catalysts, reactions can take place many times faster than they would on their own. A cell requires enzymes for virtually all of its biochemical reactions to take place effi ciently enough to support life. These reactions include the breaking down and digestion of food, the building of essential cellular components, and the breaking down of bacteria and harmful toxins. Enzymes are required for catalyzing virtually every cellular metabolic reaction. However, they cannot make energetically unfavorable reactions occur. 2

3 An energetically unfavorable reaction requires a net input of energy rather than providing a net release of energy. An enzyme cannot catalyze such a reaction without an additional supply of energy from another source. This source is usually a high-energy molecule in the cell, such as ATP. Enzymes can couple the release of energy from ATP hydrolysis with the demand for energy by an energetically unfavorable reaction. Hydrolysis refers to a type of reaction in which water molecules assist in breaking chemical bonds. ATP hydrolysis releases energy that can be used to drive another reaction. It is important to remember that enzymes only change the activation energy of reactions. ATP: adenosine triphosphate; the main energycarrying molecule of the cell what do you think? Take a look at the reaction energy diagram on the right. Which reaction requires more activation energy in order to form the product, AB? How do you know? Which reaction releases energy at a faster rate? look out! In order to catalyze reactions, enzymes must bind to their reactants. The reactants bound to an enzyme are referred to as the enzyme s substrates. However, even though enzymes are bound to substrates and facilitate the formation of products, enzymes are not permanently modified by the reaction. When the reaction is complete and the product(s) is released, the enzyme is not changed. It is immediately able to catalyze another reaction. When an enzyme (B) binds to a substrate (A), the enzyme facilitates a reaction where products (E) are formed. However, the enzyme remains unchanged (D). 3

4 Characteristics of Enzymes Enzymes demonstrate a characteristic called specifi city. This means that a specifi c enzyme is capable of catalyzing only one type of reaction. Such specificity occurs because the molecular structure of each enzyme is suited to bind to specifi c complementary substrates. This one-to-one binding is similar to two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together perfectly. Therefore, there is a specific enzyme for each biochemical reaction that must be catalyzed. The location on the enzyme where a substrate binds is called the enzyme s active site. The combination of an enzyme and its substrate is referred to as the enzyme-substrate complex. Another important characteristic of enzymes is that they require certain conditions in order to function efficiently. They work best at specific temperatures, ph levels, and salinity levels. Generally, enzymes function best at temperatures close to normal body temperature, which is 37 C (98.6 F) in humans. The cellular ph of approximately 7 is optimal for the function of most enzymes. An exception to this includes enzymes that digest food molecules inside the stomach. The ph in this area of the body is more acidic than the rest of the body. Therefore, enzymes operating in this space function best at lower ph levels. Under extreme temperatures, ph, or saline conditions, the protein structure of an enzyme can begin to degrade, or denature. As a result, the enzyme may no longer be able to perform its catalytic function. For example, during a fever, the internal body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. This can cause enzymes to malfunction. Without properly functioning enzymes, the entire body system can shut down. 4

5 Getting Technical: Restriction Enzymes The discovery of a particular type of enzyme revolutionized the field of genetics. This type of enzyme is called a restriction enzyme. Restriction enzymes catalyze reactions that involve breaking apart strands of DNA at specifi c nucleotide sequences. Restriction enzymes were fi rst discovered in bacteria. Scientists think that these enzymes evolved as a way for bacteria to cut apart viral DNA, thus defending against invading viruses. There are many different restriction enzymes, each of which snips apart DNA at a unique nucleotide sequence. In order to crack the code of the human genome, or any organism s genome for that matter, scientists needed a way to break apart the genome into tiny fragments. In this way, the sequence of each fragment genome: all of the could be determined and then pieced back together. Restriction genetic material in enzymes allowed scientists to do this. an organism Restriction enzymes have also been used to cut apart fragments of human DNA in order to learn about small differences in the DNA sequences between individual people. These differences, called polymorphisms, provide clues about which individuals may develop certain genetic diseases. By studying polymorphisms, medical scientists can predict when a certain disease might arise in an individual and take measures to prevent it. Restriction enzymes have also allowed the development of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering requires scientists to cut open strands of an organism s DNA in order to introduce new sections of DNA into an existing genome. While controversial, hundreds of genetically modified fruits and vegetables already exist as a result of this technology. Genetic engineering also holds potential for curing some types of diseases. This technology would not be possible without the use of restriction enzymes. 5

6 What Do You Know? Enzymes are biological catalysts and are involved in almost all reactions in a cell. Different scenarios involving enzymes are presented in the chart below. Read each scenario in the left column of the chart. Then, read the possible outcomes listed below the chart. Match each scenario with the most likely outcome. Write your answers in the right column of the chart. Then, next to each answer, explain why you chose the outcome. Enzyme Activity Scenario A person produces insuffi cient lactase. Most Likely Outcome A person s core body temperature is around 40 C. A person is defi cient in vitamin C. A person s blood ph is close to neutral (7). Outcomes The person develops scurvy, a disease characterized by insufficient collagen. Enzymes denature and the body shuts down. The body cannot properly digest milk products. Enzymes function properly. 6

7 connecting with your child Encounters With Enzymes Take a few minutes with your child to investigate the activity of a particular enzyme. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down milk sugar, called lactose. Lactose is broken down into simpler sugars called glucose and galactose. Your child should follow this procedure: 1. Fill a small glass container or cylinder with approximately one-half cup of whole milk. 2. Use a glucose test strip to determine whether simple glucose is present in the milk. Glucose test strips can usually be purchased in the pharmacy section of a grocery store. If possible, share a package of strips with one or two classmates. 3. Add lactase enzyme to the milk and stir with a stirring rod or spoon. Lactase enzyme tablets can also be found in the pharmacy section of a grocery store. Only a small piece of a tablet is needed (one-half tablet or less). 4. Test the milk once again with a glucose test strip. 5. Ask your child these questions: Was glucose present in the milk before adding lactase? Was glucose present in the milk after adding lactase? How do you know? How might your results be different if you used lactose-free milk instead of regular milk? Lactose is broken down by the enzyme lactase. What might be the name of the enzyme that breaks down the starch amylose? To help your child learn more about enzymes, present a variety of commercial products that involve the activity of enzymes. You may wish to provide a list of substances or the actual substances. If using real substances, remind your child not to touch, smell, or taste any of the substances. Examples might include certain vitamins and minerals, glucose test strips for diabetics, antibiotics such as penicillin, certain pesticides such as carbamates and organophosphates, and meat tenderizers. Have your child conduct Internet research on each product, focusing on the relationship of the product and enzyme activity. Here are some questions to discuss with your child: Which product(s) involves the direct use of enzymes to yield a desired outcome? Explain. Which product(s) involves the inhibition of enzymes to yield a desired outcome? Explain. Which product(s) involves the facilitation of enzymes to yield a desired outcome? Explain. 7

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