Enzymes are the astonishing, tiny molecular machines that make life possible. Each one of these small proteins speeds up a single chemical reaction inside a living organism many millionfold. Working together, teams of enzymes carry out all the processes that collectively we recognise as life, from making DNA to digesting food.
This Very Short Introduction explains the why and the how of speeding up these reactions – catalysis – before going on to reveal how we have evolved these catalysts of such extraordinary power and exquisite selectivity. Paul Engel shows how X-ray crystallography has revealed the complex molecular shapes that allow enzymes to function at an extraordinarily sophisticated level. He also examines medical aspects of enzymes, both in the way faulty enzymes cause disease and in the way enzymes can be used for diagnosis and therapy. Finally, he looks at the many varied ways in which individual enzymes, taken out of their biological context, are used nowadays as tools – in washing powders, food production, waste treatment, and chemical synthesis.
List of illustrations
1: No enzymes, no life
2: Making things happen
3: Making things happen
4: Nuts and bolts
5: Molecular machines
6: Metabolic pathways and enzyme evolution
7: Enzymes and disease
8: Enzymes as tools
Paul Engel is an Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at University College Dublin. He lectured at Sheffield for many years before taking up the Chair of Biochemistry at University College Dublin in 1994, where his research career focussed on enzymology, kinetics, and protein engineering. Paul Engel has taken an active interest in the public awareness of science and started a programme at UCD for training Ph. D. students in presenting science to the public. Elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2001, he has also chaired its Life Sciences Committee. In 2010 he was awarded the Biochemical Irish Area Section's Medal for outstanding research carried out in Ireland.