They are as tiny as 2.5 nanometres but can speed up chemical processes in minutes or even seconds, which would otherwise take hundreds of years. While you are reading this, approximately 75,000 enzymes are busy with speeding up the rate of virtually all chemical reactions needed to keep your body running: building muscle, destroying toxins or breaking down food particles during digestion. In fact, they are present in every living cell. Without the zealous work of enzymes in our gut we would need approximately 15,000 years to digest a Snickers bar. In a nutshell, enzymes create the conditions needed for millions of biochemical reactions to happen fast, and are nature´s own biological catalysts. While humans have traditionally utilized the benefits of enzymes without even knowing it for a long time (for example for baking bread or brewing beer), enzymes have been gaining increasing interest for use in industrial applications in recent decades. No wonder, the tiny helpers reduce processing time, lower the energy input and increase cost effectiveness of many industrial processes thereby showing eco-friendly characteristics and being biodegradable. Moreover, they optimize and improve the properties of many industrial goods: They help detergents remove stains more effectively, enhance the volume and stability of crumb structure in baked goods or help animals digest specific dietary components which would otherwise not be digested. At the same time they reduce environmental waste – such as the volume of detergents or the phosphorus pollution in livestock farming.
Click here to find out more about the different enzyme markets we serve.
Enzymes are produced by any living organism (plants, animals or microorganisms) with each one having a unique fingerprint. Researchers are on an ongoing quest to find enzymes offering novel biocatalysts with extraordinary properties – thereby searching biologial sources ranging from volcanoes over deep sea hydrothermal vents to rain forests and soda lakes. Especially marine microorganisms, with their immense genetic and biochemical diversity are of current interest as a new promising source of enzymes. BASF owns a microbial gene library estimated to contain over two million microbial genomes, which are a possible source for the next high performance enzyme on the market.
Once a new high-potential enzyme has been detected, it can be industrially produced in large scale by introducing the corresponding genes into suitable production hosts such as bacteria or fungi. With some tweaks to their genetic code, yeast strains for example can be engineered to produce the desired enzyme. If needed, it can be further engineered (“evolved”) to operate under the specific conditions of the application. At BASF´s phytase plant fungal cultures of Aspergillus niger are used as mini-factories to manufacture optimized versions of the enzymes phytase, glucanase and xylanase used for animal nutrition.