“Enzymes involved in breaking down fat can now be manipulated to work three times harder by turning on a molecular switch recently observed by chemists at the University of Copenhagen,” ScienceDaily reports.
“Being able to control this chemical on/off button could have massive implications for curing diseases related to obesity, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and even skin problems like acne.”
The story goes on to say, “The results suggest that the switch may be a common characteristic of many more enzymes. Since enzymes are miniscule worker-molecules that control a vast variety of functions in cells, if the switches are standard, it may well be one of the most important discoveries in enzymology. ‘If many enzymes turn out to be switched on in the same way as the ones we’ve studied, this opens a door to understanding, and maybe curing, a wide range of diseases,’ says professor Dimitrios Stamou.”
MORE: Obesity: A Global Threat
HowStuffWorks explains, “At any given moment, all of the work being done inside any cell is being done by enzymes. If you understand enzymes, you understand cells . . . Enzymes have extremely interesting properties that make them little chemical-reaction machines. The purpose of an enzyme in a cell is to allow the cell to carry out chemical reactions very quickly . . . At the most basic level, a cell is really a little bag full of chemical reactions that are made possible by enzymes.”
LIVESTRONG, the website of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, concurs: “An enzyme is a protein that speeds up the rate at which a chemical reaction occurs. Enzymes are substrate specific, meaning that each type of enzyme has a specific type of molecule that it affects. The human body needs enzymes to influence the rates at which biological processes occur. A number of diseases occur due to insufficient quantities of specific enzymes.”
A story that ran in U.S. News & World Report last month adds that, “Raquel Lieberman, an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of chemistry and biochemistry, is very interested an enzyme that lives in the membrane of archaea, single-cell microorganisms that are similar to bacteria. Its job is to break down membrane-resident peptides, which typically are segments of larger proteins.”
Lieberman told the magazine, “ ‘We are interested in the molecular details of how cells survive by recognizing and responding to intracellular signals . . . By studying the simpler model system, we might be able to better understand what might be happening in the human system. The enzyme seems to work the same way in the archaea as it does in humans.’ ”
U.S. News concluded, “Ultimately, the work could provide important insights into the workings of chronic hepatitis C infection . . . and Alzheimer’s disease.”
That’s a pretty tall order when you consider that ScienceNews notes individual enzyme molecules “are so small, that there are trillions in just a drop of water.”
Were you aware of how important enzymes are in understanding and controlling disease? Let us know in the comments.
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com