Denatured Enzyme: Definition & Overview Video

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  • 0:00 Defining Enzymes
  • 0:45 Catalyzing Reactions
  • 2:40 Conformation
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Darla Reed

Darla has taught undergraduate Enzyme Kinetics and has a doctorate in Basic Medical Science

In this lesson, you'll learn the definition of an enzyme, as well as about the important role enzymes play in chemical reactions. You'll also learn about the different chemical factors that can cause an enzyme to become denatured.

Defining Enzymes

Do you know what happens to those non-microwave-safe plastic containers when you accidentally put them in the microwave? They melt and produce a messy glob of plastic that's no longer useful as a container. Well, think of a denatured enzyme as that sad looking glob of microwaved plastic.

So what exactly is an enzyme? Let's start with basics. All living things are made up of elements (like oxygen and hydrogen). Elements make up chemical groups or molecules (such as water- H2O). In cells, these chemical groups or molecules can form amino acids. These amino acids join to form 3-dimensional structures called proteins. Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions.

Catalyze Reactions

What does it mean to catalyze chemical reactions? If you take an ice cube out of the freezer it will eventually melt over time and turn into water. Is there a way to make it melt faster? Yes! By putting it in a pot and turning on the stove. Chemical reactions involve substrates (or substances, like the ice cube) and products (like the water). Enzymes help turn substrates into products faster than if the latter were left to form over time; they catalyze, or increase the rate of a chemical the reaction.

In our ice cube example, the stove, acting as an enzyme, made the ice cube melt and turn into water a lot faster than if it had just been allowed to sit on the kitchen counter. During the reaction, the stove remained unchanged- it's still a stove. Enzymes also remained unchanged when they catalyze chemical reactions.

So how do enzymes catalyze chemical reactions? Well, all proteins are composed of elements that interact. The structure of these proteins is the result of these interactions. Elements can interact in several ways, including hydrogen bonds (where hydrogen is attracted to another element), ionic bonds (when positives and negatives are attracted to each other), covalent bonds (where atoms share electrons) and van der Waals forces (where bonds and forces give the protein a 3-dimensional shape called a conformation.

Enzymes have a specific conformation that leaves one part open to bind to the substrate. This open part is called the active site. The active site binds the substrate and helps turn it into product. The conformation of a protein is important when determining what substrate it will bind and how strongly it will bind it. Anything that affects the interaction of the elements (such as the bonds and forces that give the enzyme its 3-dimensional form) will alter the activity (or function) of the enzyme.


There are several factors that can control the conformation of an enzyme and its active site, including temperature, pH, chemical environments, and chemical solutions. Let's start with temperature.


When the temperature increases, molecules move around faster. This increases the chances an enzyme will meet a substrate and start a chemical reaction that turns the substrate into a product. Enzymes function most efficiently at an optimal temperature or preferred temperature.

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