Enzymes have been used in the pulp, paper and textile industries to soften wood fibres, improve drainage, and present alternatives to chemical bleaching.
Paper is made from cellulose fibres, which must be separated from a tough wood fibre called lignin. The step by step process used to separate cellulose from lignin and other wood components is known as pulping. It is a time and energy consuming process, involving the mechanical processing of wood or the treatment of wood with harsh chemicals.
In biopulping, cellulase and xylanase enzymes made by lignin-degrading fungi are used to pre- treat wood and break down the lignin fibres. Removing lignin prior to further wood pulping saves time and energy, and decreases the quantities of chemicals used.
Enzymes can also improve water drainage during wood pulping, a process that often slows down paper production. When fine lignin fibres are degraded by enzymes, less water is absorbed, thereby reducing drainage times, lessening the energy required to dry the paper, and producing a cleaner water runoff.
Lignin fibres that remain in wood pulp are coloured and must be bleached, usually by harsh chlorine compounds under high pressures. As an alternative, enzymes may be used to remove fine surface fibres, thereby reducing the bleaching process or eliminating it altogether.
Enzyme Biotechnology and Textiles:
Enzymes are used to treat and modify fibres, particularly during textile processing and in caring for textiles afterwards. For example, enzymes called catalases are used to treat cotton fibres and prepare them for the dyeing processes. Some bacterial enzymes are used to separate the tough stem of the flax plant from the flax fibres used in textiles.
By degrading surface fibres, many enzymes, including some cellulases and xylanases, are used to finish fabrics, give jeans a stonewashed effect, or help in the tanning of leathers. A recombinant enzyme called laccase, made by certain fungi, may also be used to treat fabrics and even catalyse the synthesis of some synthetic fibres.
There are even enzymes in regular laundry detergent to help break down dirt, clean clothes more effectively, and prevent the dulling of fabric colours. Enzymes are frequently used in laundry detergents. Without them, very high temperatures and mechanical shaking would be required to effectively clean clothes and other textiles.
The main enzyme types used in laundry detergents are briefly described as follows:
Enzymes may be used to help produce fuels from renewable sources of biomass. Such enzymes include cellulases, which convert cellulose fibres from feed-stocks like corn into sugars. These sugars are subsequently fermented into ethanol by microorganisms.
A new process called Simultaneous Saccharification and Fermentation has greatly improved ethanol production efficiency. In this new process, cellulase enzymes and fermentation microorganisms are combined in a single reaction mixture to produce ethanol in one step, rather than producing sugars from cellulose and then fermenting them into ethanol separately.
Advances in science and technology have allowed researchers to improve enzymes through modifications to enzyme producing microorganisms, or through direct changes to the enzymes themselves. Genetic Engineering and Recombinant DNA technology—By using recombinant DNA technology, microorganisms may be genetically modified to produce a desired enzyme under specific conditions.
This is accomplished through recombinant DNA technology, whereby small circular pieces of DNA, known as plasmids, are used to insert enzyme-producing genes into the genomes of organisms that possess another desirable trait, such as the ability to thrive on inexpensive nutrients. Therefore, both the enzyme and the original trait will be expressed in a single recombinant microorganism.
All enzymes are made of proteins, which are large molecules formed from basic units, called amino acids, strung together like beads on a chain. To form functional enzymes, long chains of amino acids must be folded properly. Some enzymes consist of only one chain, whereas others are made of several chains that fit together.
Scientists are using technology to study how proteins are formed, how they fold, and how they function. By studying the relation between the structure of a protein and how it functions, they are developing ways to improve and engineer enzymes. Proteins may be modified by changing one or more amino acids, and/or changing the way the amino acid chains fold and fit together.
Enzymes are a sustainable alternative to the use of harsh chemicals in industry. Because enzymes work under moderate conditions, such as warm temperatures and neutral pH, they reduce energy consumption by eliminating the need to maintain extreme environments, as required by many chemically catalysed reactions. Reducing energy consumption leads to decreased greenhouse gas emissions by power stations.
Enzymes also reduce water consumption and chemical waste production during manufacturing processes. Because enzymes react specifically and minimise the production of by-products, they offer minimal risk to humans, wildlife, and the environment.
Enzymes are both economically and environmentally feasible because they are safely inactivated and create little or no waste; rather than being discarded, end-product enzymatic material may be treated and used as fertiliser for farmers’ crops.