Enzymes Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Enzymes love speed! It's their job to speed up chemical reactions inside your body. Learn about the active site of an enzyme and how it reacts with a substrate to make chemical reactions happen fast.

What Are Enzymes?

Wouldn't it be cool if you had a superpower that caused you to work super fast? You could finish your homework and clean your room in less than a minute! While there might not be a special power that makes you think or clean that quickly, there are special proteins inside your cells that make things happen very fast. These special proteins are called enzymes, and their job is to speed up chemical reactions.

There are thousands of chemical reactions that happen in your body every day. These reactions have to happen very fast to keep you alive. If you didn't have enzymes, chemical reactions would still be present in your body, but they would react in slow motion and make survival difficult.

What Do Enzymes Do?

You have many different enzymes in your body. Some help control activities within your cells, which we call cell metabolism. Other enzymes help you digest the foods you eat.

For example, salivary amylase is an enzyme found in saliva, which is the fluid in your mouth. This enzyme helps break down carbohydrates. When you eat a carbohydrate, like a potato, salivary amylase breaks the bonds that hold the carbohydrate together. As the bits of potato continue to move through your digestive tract, they get broken down by even more enzymes until they are small enough to get absorbed by your body.

salivary amylase

Here's a little trick. Do you see that salivary amylase ends in the letters ase? Many enzymes are named like this, so if you see those letters at the end of a word, there's a good chance it's an enzyme!

How Do Enzymes Work?

Since enzymes do so many different things, you can imagine that they come in different shapes and sizes. But no matter what job an enzyme does, you'll always find that it has a notch cut out of it. This notch is called the active site. The active site is the part of the enzyme that reacts with the substrate. The substrate is the molecule that the enzyme acts on. When a reaction is ready to take place, the substrate attaches to the active site, and gets either built up or broken down, depending on what your body needs.

The active site of an enzyme joining with a substrate

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