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Desert Diary


Most people think of meat when you say protein. After all, it's a big deal when you're talking diet. Of course, if you're heavily into vegetables, you realize that there are plant proteins, too. Lesser known is an entirely different class of proteins-–and in some sense, more important than the structural proteins such as muscle. These are the enzymes.

Not only our development from a fertilized egg to old age, but the everyday chemical reactions that keep us alive are dependent on them. Enzymes are substances that speed up chemical reactions without themselves being consumed. An analogy might be a cookie cutter that shapes dough while itself remaining unchanged. Although there are inorganic enzymes widely used in industry, most of the huge number found in living things are proteins—proteins manufactured according to the genetic blueprints that we call DNA. More than anything else, the differences between ourselves and, say, a spade-foot toad are due to the timing of appearance, the amounts, and the kinds of enzymes. So let's give proteins their due—next time, think enzymes, not beefsteak!
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.