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Biocatalysis


Biocatalysis is a long word that perhaps you have heard, or may have pierced your subconscious, or possibly has never made your acquaintance. Well, let me introduce you to an important technology of the future that you really need to know about. A good place to start is with definitions, which always help to provide clarity about a subject.

Biocatalysis can be defined as the use of natural substances to speed up (or catalyze) chemical reactions. The natural substances of which I speak can be one or more enzymes or cells. An enzyme is simply a protein catalyst, and enzymes have many important uses. Every reaction in your any living thing, yourself included, proceeds thanks to the presence of enzymes. Enzymes help you digest food, produce vital nutrients, move muscles, and do just about everything else you can think of. Enzymes are also used in your daily life daily to improve the performance of detergents ("protein gets out protein"), make beer and wine, process food, allow diagnostic laboratories to tell you what is wrong with you, and many other tasks that seem to happen automatically every day.

The chemical reactions that one typically thinks of as being enzyme-catalyzed are biologically-related ones. Thus, biocatalysis includes the one-step enzymatic conversion to produce aspartic acid (a component of the non-caloric sweetener aspartame), the two-step oxidation of ethanol to acetic acid (vinegar can be made this way), and the multi-step brewing of beer (quite likely the oldest example of biocatalysis, with historical records dating back 6000 years!). But, biocatalysis can also be used to replace many traditional chemical catalysts, including catalysts that are toxic or contain chemical residues that pollute the environment.

The impact of biocatalysis in the future will be precisely this: the increasing ability to use enzymes to catalyze chemical reactions in industrial processes, including the production of drug substances, flavors, fragrances, electronic chemicals, polymers-chemicals that literally impact almost every facet of your life. In adopting biocatalysis as a mainstream technology for chemical production, we will be introducing a technology that is greener, reduces pollution and cost, and creates greater sustainability. Now that's a good reason to get acquainted!

 

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