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What can we learn by studying enzymes in non-aqueous media?

Halling, P.J. (2004) What can we learn by studying enzymes in non-aqueous media? Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 359 (1448). pp. 1287-1297. ISSN 0962-8436

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Abstract

What is the role of water in enzyme structure and function? One approach to answers should come from studies in which the amount of water present is a variable. In the absence of bulk liquid water, effective monitoring of enzyme action requires an alternative fluid medium through which substrates and products may be transported. The past 20 years have seen quite extensive study of enzyme behaviour when reactants are transferred via a bulk phase that is an organic liquid, a supercritical fluid or a gas. Some lipases, at least, remain highly active with only a few, if any, residual water molecules. Many enzymes seem to require larger amounts of water, but still not a liquid water phase. There are hysteresis effects on both the amount of bound water and the observed catalytic activity. Increasing hydration promotes mobility of the enzyme molecule, as revealed by various techniques, and there are correlations with catalytic activity. There are other plausible roles for hydration, such as opening up proton conduction pathways.