Published On: June 20, 2024

RadicalZ Q&A: Are enzymes good for the environment?

We’re back to answer questions about our favourite proteins: enzymes! This time we want to know about the environmental impact of implementing them in different industrial processes and if it is always as good for the environment as it’s portrayed.

A molecular push to sustainability

To answer the question more clearly, what we can say about all enzymes is that, by themselves, they don’t harm the environment, since they are biocompatible, biodegradable and made of renewable sources. However, within the chemical industry, only very specific ones can lead to more sustainability 

Many industrial processes rely on unsustainable transformations to manufacture consumer products. These are, for example, the use of non-renewable resources or specific working conditions that consume high amounts of energy. Tailored enzymes exhibit specificity and rapid action, enabling industrial processes to operate under mild conditions. This results in products of higher quality, less consumption of energy, water and raw materials and reduced waste generation.  

But as we have seen, it is not an easy task to design them – although it is worth it! Major chemical companies and researchers have already bet on the use of both natural and engineered enzymes to produce a wide variety of daily life products like paper, textiles, food and pharmaceuticals in a more efficient and eco-friendly way. In some of our blog entries, we talked about using specific enzymes to create better laundry products or to improve the production of nutraceuticals. Experts agree that this kind of enzymatic process is a promising greener alternative to traditional methods. But that’s not all. 

Tiny cleaners of pollutants 

There exist enzymes that can directly help clean the environment. From capturing carbon dioxide to degrading plastic waste, they have great potential for important ecological applications. Promising works on engineered enzymes that help degrade and capture pollutants let us say today that these biomolecules can have a direct positive impact on the environment.  
Enzymes like hydrolases, oxidoreductases, dehalogenases or transferases have been refined to improve their ability to convert most of the toxic pollutants present in the environment into non-toxic forms through catalytic reactions. Carbonic anhydrases are one of the highlighted candidates to be incorporated in systems that capture carbon dioxide. Moreover, there is a growing interest in engineered cutinases and PETases that depolymerise plasticAll these enzymes are tiny molecules but could be of great help to reduce pollution! 

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