Biology: What is an enzyme?

Tutoring Biology 12, you mention enzymes often.  The biology tutor defines the term enzyme, having used it in previous posts.

Recalling elementary school, your teacher likely led holiday crafting.  For example, she might have handed out pages with snowmen traced on them for the kids to cut out and decorate.  Likely, the finished snowmen were affixed to the window or wall.

Back then, photocopying was still pretty new; not all schools had a photocopier.  If they did, they didn’t use them much; likely, photocopies were expensive.  They still are, by the way:  going “over-budget” on photocopies can be a real problem in bureaucracies.

Therefore, the teacher didn’t use a photocopier.  She traced each snowman by hand.  However, she didn’t do it free-hand; she used a pattern.  Likely, she drew one “good one” by hand on cardboard, then cut it out.  To produce a snowman sheet for a child, she laid the cardboard pattern on a sheet of blank paper and traced around.  Tracing around the cardboard was quick: likely, she could produce twenty-five snowmen sheets just as quickly that way as by going down the hall to the photocopier, running them off there, then bringing them back.  What’s more, she could afterwards put the cardboard pattern away amongst her other supplies.  Next year, it would be there, waiting to be put to use again.  From one careful snowman drawing done on cardboard in her early days, she could produce unlimited snowman sheets over her teaching career.

Let’s consider a cell in the human body.  Like the teacher, it needs to repeat the same job(s).  To a cell, a job is a chemical reaction.

Does the cell do the reaction “free-hand”?  No.  Like the teacher, it makes a physical pattern that can be reused as many times as needed.  That pattern, to a cell, is an enzyme.

Most enzymes are proteins.  Like the teacher’s snowman pattern, the enzyme’s shape defines which job it helps with.  To the teacher, a different art project would require a different cardboard pattern.  To the cell, each specific reaction requires its own specific enzyme.

If the teacher could not use patterns, preparing for the art project might take prohibitively long; similarly, the cell’s life processes can not occur quickly enough without enzymes.  Some poisons specifically target enzymes and shut them down.

The veteran teacher found her job easy, since she’d accumulated such a helpful toolkit over her years.  Similarly, a cell whose enzymes are all available and functional is likely very prosperous:)

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Leave a Reply