Enzymes: Etymology and history

The word enzyme comes from Greek: "in leaven". As early as the late 1700s and early 1800s, the digestion of meat by stomach secretions and the conversion of starch to sugars by plant extracts and saliva were observed.

Studying the fermentation of sugar to alcohol by yeast, Louis Pasteur came to the conclusion that this fermentation was catalyzed by "ferments" in the yeast, which were thought to function only in the presence of living organisms.

In 1897, Hans and Eduard Buchner inadvertently used yeast extracts to ferment sugar, despite the absence of living yeast cells. They were interested in making extracts of yeast cells for medical purposes, and, as one possible way of preserving them, they added large amounts of sucrose to the extract. To their surprise, they found that the sugar was fermented, even though there were no living yeast cells in the mixture. The term "enzyme" was used to describe the substance(s) in yeast extract that brought about the fermentation of sucrose. It was not until 1926, however, that the first enzyme was obtained in pure form.


Go to Start | This article uses material from the Wikipedia