A Diamond in the Rough

Ok so, I have just finished eating a very hardy meal of potatoes with a side of french fries, as I do most every night. While this starchy meal may not be the most nutritious, I know it will ultimately provide me with one very key compound vital to my existence; this being sugar, in the form of glucose. But how exactly does our body go about converting a potato, a starch-rich tuber, to one of the most important reactants to ATP-synthesis, glucose?

The answer: debatably one of the most important enzymes to all living things, autotrophs and heterotrophs, alike. Introducing, Alpha-Amylase.

In humans, alpha-amylase is responsible for breaking down starches into simple sugars, maltose and glucose, for our body to use in its everyday processes. It is first excreted by the salivary glands in the mouth, and again by the pancreas in the GI tract.

In plants, amylase is the most crucial enzyme to a germinated seed. Ever wonder how plant seeds survive submerged in soil, as they are cut off from sunlight? When a seed germinates, it produces starches and amylase. In the right conditions, the starches are broken down by amylase, yielding sugars; stimulating the initial growth of a future, fruitful plant.

In brewing science, the starches of germinated barley are broken down by alpha-amylase, providing enough sugar for a three-week yeast smorgasbord. Add some hops to the mix, and you’ve got yourself one of the most culturally significant beverages in world history, beer.

So, whether you are animal or plant (although I doubt my audience consists of many plants, I do not wish to rule out the chances of Darwin reincarnating himself in the form of a tech-savvy super vegetable), alpha-amylase essential to our existence. From stimulating the growth of tomato plants, to breaking down the starches of potatoes to sugars, we have alpha-amylase to thank. Here’s to you, alpha-amylase; certainly a diamond in the rough of enzymes. Cheers!

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