Salivary Amylase: Structure & Chemistry

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  • 0:04 What Is Salivary Amylase?
  • 1:09 Types of Amylase
  • 1:55 Structure of Salivary Amylase
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dominic Corsini
How does saliva help break down food? It contains a special enzyme called salivary amylase that does the job. This lesson explores the structure and overall function of this very useful enzyme.

What Is Salivary Amylase?

When you eat something, when does your body actually begin digesting it? Many people think it's after the food enters your stomach. However, this assumption is incorrect. Digestion actually begins the moment food enters your mouth and comes into contact with salivary amylase. This has to do with enzymes in your mouth. Enzymes are groups of molecules that help speed up chemical reactions. If you see a word that ends in '-ase' you know you're dealing with an enzyme.

Salivary amylase is an enzyme found in the saliva of humans. This enzyme helps to break down the starches in your food. Starch is a large compound that is broken apart into its smaller sugar subunits by salivary amylase. This process is called chemical digestion, or the chemical breakup of food. While it begins in the mouth, chemical digestion continues throughout your entire digestive system. The other type of digestion is mechanical, which refers to the physical breaking up of food, which includes chewing and the movement of the stomach to churn it.

Types of Amylase

Before we talk about the structure of salivary amylase, we should first acknowledge that several different forms of the amylase enzyme exist: alpha, beta, and gamma. We are only concerned with the alpha form in this lesson, as it's the only one present in animals. While alpha amylase is used in animals and other organisms, the others are used strictly in plants, fungi, and bacteria.

Alpha amylase is the form produced by an animal's salivary glands and pancreas. As a result, the salivary amylase we've been describing is sometimes referred to as salivary alpha-amylase because it's the alpha form that's produced by your tissues and used for chemical digestion. So, now that you understand what salivary amylase is, let's look at how it's built.

Structure of Salivary Amylase

At its most basic level, salivary amylase is made from many small subunits called amino acids. In fact, all enzymes are made from amino acids. Enzymes are, believe it or not, actually protein molecules. The amino acids are individual links found in a protein (or enzyme) chain.

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