Biotechnology is defined as the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of micro organisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc. Biotechnology encompasses a wide range of industries such as brewing, baking, cheese production and mushroom cultivation, together with more recent technologies, particularly with regard to the pharmaceutical industry (production of vaccines, hormones and steroids, diagnostic assays and antibiotics) and other industries such as food, paper, textiles, and waste management.
Enzymology is the specific branch of biochemistry dealing with the chemical nature and biological activity of enzymes. Enzymes are proteins produced in living cells that catalyse and accelerate the metabolic processes of an organism.
Enzymes and the Food Industry
Bread making is one of the most common food processing techniques throughout the world although the bread products of different countries vary in their finishing form. A loaf of bread begins to degrade in quality as soon as it leaves the oven. The starch in the bread loses moisture, which is why bread becomes hard within a few days. By adding maltogenic amylase to the flour, the structure of the starch can be altered to retain moisture more efficiently, thus the bread stays soft and fresh longer. In combination with other enzymes, bread can also be produced to a better quality, with an improved shelf-life.
Enzymes are also used in dairy and cheese production to improve stability, taste and texture.
Enzymes and the Brewing Industry
As technology has progressed, brewing techniques have been developed and refined. The brewing process involves the extraction and catabolism of carbohydrates in fruits and grains, yielding a sugar solution. This sugar solution is used as an invaluable source of nutrients for anaerobic yeast growth. These simple sugars are metabolised by the yeast cells by a biochemical process of fermentation, thus releasing energy and producing ethanol and carbon dioxide by way of by-products. During this process, the principal biological changes occurring are catalysed by naturally produced enzymes from barley and yeast. Although this natural process has been recognised for many years, it is only relatively recently that biotechnological advances allow refined and complete control over the entire brewing process.
Enzymes and the Agricultural Industry
In the agricultural industry, enzymes are utilised to prepare livestock feed. Green forage plants are stored in a silo and enzymes added as biological silage inoculants, together with lactic acid. The enzymes partially break down some of the cell wall components of the plant material by anaerobic fermentation into soluble sugars. Such sugars are subsequently metabolised by lactic acid which, in turn, reduces the pH of the feed. Some enzyme preparations have been reported to improve utilisation of feeds for animals with specialised digestive systems, such as in ruminants.
Enzymes and the Laundry Industry
Many laundry detergents contain particular enzymes that facilitate the improved cleaning of laundry. Commonly used enzymes include proteases to digest protein based stains, a-amylase to digest starch based stains, and lipases to digest fat or oil based stains. Washing powders which contain such enzymes are known as biological washing powders. The enzymes also allow improved cleaning at much lower temperatures than would usually be required.
Enzymes and the Pharmaceutical Industry
Enzymes have many significant and vital roles in the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries. Some examples are:-
• As direct pharmaceutical products, such as in the treatment of enzymatic deficiency caused by various genetic disorders.
• Extraction of medicinally important compounds, such as heparin.
• Manufacture of chemical pharmaceuticals where enzymes are used for the interconversion of chemical intermediates or the removal of chiral components.
• Research and development - especially in the field of molecular biology where almost all of the processes of nucleic acid manipulation are performed using enzymes, such as restriction endonucleases and DNA polymerases.
• Diagnostic procedures also frequently utilise enzymes - such as Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA), pregnancy and diabetic testing kits.
• In the production of synthetic and semi-synthetic hormones and steroids.
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