Introduction to Enzymes

Early Enzyme Discoveries

The existence of enzymes has been known for well over a century. Some of the earliest studies were performed in 1835 by the Swedish chemist Jon Jakob Berzelius who termed their chemical action catalytic. It was not until 1926, however, that the first enzyme was obtained in pure form, a feat accomplished by James B. Sumner of Cornell University. Sumner was able to isolate and crystallize the enzyme urease from the jack bean. His work was to earn him the 1947 Nobel Prize.

John H. Northrop and Wendell M. Stanley of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research shared the 1947 Nobel Prize with Sumner. They discovered a complex procedure for isolating pepsin. This precipitation technique devised by Northrop and Stanley has been used to crystallize several enzymes.