Making it foam

An Introduction to Enzyme and Coenzyme Chemistry
February 6, 1998

People never cease to be surprised when they see an enzyme in action: the sudden transformation of a solution of hydrogen peroxide into a torrent of foam caused by the oxygen released has amazed and delighted audiences throughout the world. How do they do it, these innocent-seeming compounds? Tim Bugg has pleasure in telling us in this succinct and elegant exposition of the art of enzyme catalysis. Of course, he is a chemist and it is to the latter that this subject now belongs since most of those occupying biochemistry departments have been more concerned to unravel the role of the genetic apparatus in enzyme action and its relationship with all the other materials contained within the biological apparatus.

Bugg whets our appetites in the first chapter by stressing the commercial importance of enzymes. I would have welcomed more along these lines, but perhaps he had to operate within the constraints imposed by the publishers who sought to keep the price within the reach of an enquiring undergraduate. If so, he would have been wiser to incorporate the pretty, but useless, colour photographs of enzymes in the text, even in black-and-white, and use the funds to describe the importance of enzymes at greater length here and elsewhere in the text.

In the description of the basic features of enzymes, I was bewildered by the inadequate description of metallo-enzymes and can imagine the horror felt by those more concerned with zinc enzymes when coming across the simple representation of the latters' mode of action. Given that Bugg's treatment of such enzymes is perfectly adequate later in the text, I am sure it is simply just a temporary lapse.

But I am not convinced it is right to describe enzymes as having "near faultless" precision. Many enzymes do not get it quite right, though whether the other targets of their attention are present in vivo is another matter. It is implicit, but not explicit, in much that Bugg writes that enzymes are "dynamic", that is, their structures are mobile. It is, of course, hard to reproduce the essence of this on paper, and it will be one of the features to be welcomed when most books appear as CD-Roms or on the Internet.

Nevertheless, the response to internal and external influences is one of the principal reasons why enzymes carry out the catalysis so exquisitely. Indeed, it is likely that these dynamic qualities have much to do with the comparative failure of synthetic models of enzymes that is decried in the sad and, fortunately, brief account given in the last chapter: sad, because I have been reading such accounts for a quarter of a century and I have rarely been impressed.

The main body of the book is expertly written, with elegant figures adorning text. Indeed the quality of the publication is superb, and both the author and the publisher deserve praise.

The relatively few enzymes with which I am well acquainted are well described and this gave me confidence when learning of the rest. All classes of enzymes are considered and this book constitutes a most appropriate primer. Undergraduates will benefit from the many questions posed and their supervisors will be grateful for the answers given.

This book should be a success and, if suitable arrangements have been made for its publication worldwide, then Bugg can view his decision to convert his lecture notes into a form that reaches a wider audience as one of the best he has made to date.

H. Allen O. Hill is professor of bioinorganic chemistry, University of Oxford.

An Introduction to Enzyme and Coenzyme Chemistry

Author - Tim Bugg
ISBN - 0 86542 793 3
Publisher - Blackwell Scientific Publications
Price - £19.95
Pages - 247

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