At Substrata, our products all contain enzymes. But what are enzymes, and what do they do? 

The short answer is, enzymes are protein molecules that cause or speed up chemical reactions. They can do extraordinary things like remove odors, clean up grease spills, help you digest food, and even keep dirt roads from eroding. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics about enzymes, such as: 

  • What enzymes are
  • Where they come from
  • What they do
  • How they work
  • What our enzyme products do 

What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes are macromolecules

Regular molecules are groups of two or more atoms that join together to form the smallest possible unit of a substance. For example, a water molecule is made from two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. 

Macromolecules are large molecules—anywhere from 10 to 1,000 times larger than normal. They often occur as polymers, which are repeating molecular chains that form many structures, from trees to PVC pipes. Some polymers even work as soil stabilizers. 

Enzyme vs. Protein

All enzymes are proteins, but not all proteins are enzymes. So, what’s the difference? Proteins are complex substances involved in life functions. The many different types of proteins all do different things. Consider these examples:

  • The storage protein casein carries nutrients from a mother’s milk to her baby. 
  • The structural protein collagen keeps our skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues healthy. 
  • The hormonal protein insulin helps our bodies convert food into energy. 
  • The antibodies in our blood help us fight off illnesses. 

Enzymes are a special type of protein that regulates the speed at which chemical reactions occur. There are many different enzymes, each with its own structure and function. We’ll talk about the six main types of enzymes soon. 

Where Do Enzymes Come From?

People often think enzymes are living organisms that reproduce independently, but they’re not. Rather, living organisms produce enzymes inside their cells. The enzymes in living organisms also benefit non-living things like soil. Soil isn’t alive, so it can’t make enzymes. But, it’s still full of them! The enzymes in soil come from: 

  • Living and dead microorganisms
  • Decomposing plant residues
  • Soil-dwelling animals (such as insects or worms)

Enzymes can also be man-made. Usually, this process involves fermenting living organisms like bacteria or yeast to produce enzymes. (That’s what we do here at Substrata.) However, in the 2010s, scientists successfully engineered synthetic enzymes and grew some in plants instead of fermenting them. 

What Do Enzymes Do? 

It’s fitting that enzymes are big molecules because they have big jobs to do. They’re responsible for virtually every chemical reaction that occurs in plants, animals, and people. For example, our bodies produce enzymes to help us digest food, absorb nutrients, and build muscles. Without enzymes, none of these vital processes could happen.

Enzymes also help with all sorts of industrial processes and household chores. Some of those uses include things like:

  • Industrial parts washing
  • Conditioning soil for agriculture
  • Making everything from lice shampoo to laundry detergent
  • Deodorizing wastewater
  • Cleaning gooey messes on kitchen counters

With so many versatile uses, it’s no wonder that enzymes function differently. Let’s take a look at how they work.

How Do Enzymes Work?

As we mentioned, enzymes catalyze (cause or speed up) chemical reactions among molecules in an organism or ecosystem. They do this by creating, breaking, moving, or rearranging molecular bonds within a substance, such as food, water, or soil. 

Substances on which enzymes act are called substrates. Enzymes adhere to the substrate to form temporary molecules called the enzyme substrate complex. The area where the chemical reaction occurs is called the active site. And that’s where the magic happens! 

If you’ve seen a child’s science fair volcano, you have a good visual for an enzyme reaction. Baking soda is like a substrate; it’s a stable, isolated substance. Adding vinegar (or enzymes) makes a reaction occur. When you pour vinegar into baking soda, they bubble up. The bubbles are like the enzyme substrate complex, and the container where you mix the baking soda and vinegar represents the active site. 

The six main types of enzymes work in different ways: 

  1. Lyase enzymes break molecular bonds with carbon.
  2. Ligase enzymes join and bond molecules together.
  3. Isomerase enzymes rearrange a molecule’s bonds to form a different molecule.
  4. Transferase enzymes move chemical groups from one compound to another.
  5. Hydrolase enzymes use water to join molecules or break a molecule’s bond with water.
  6. Oxidoreductase enzymes change the number of electrons an atom can gain or lose in a chemical reaction or move electrons from one atom to another.

While many enzymatic chemical reactions occur naturally, supplementary enzymes accelerate them. That’s why many people take enzyme supplements to improve physical functions like digestion and muscle-building.

Do Chemical Reactions Change Enzymes? 

When an enzyme catalyzes a reaction, it may temporarily change shape to bond to the substrate. However, it will return to normal after the reaction ends. 

That’s because chemical reactions don’t change the enzymes themselves. Rather, the enzymes influence processes in other molecules. They speed up, slow down, or let reactions occur in different conditions than normal (such as at lower temperatures).

Factors That Affect Enzyme Activity

Enzymes are active when they’re aiding a chemical reaction, but several factors can affect how active they are:

  • pH: Some enzymes work best in acidic conditions, others in alkaline conditions. If the pH of the substrate or its environment is not optimal, it can affect how well—or if—the enzymes catalyze chemical reactions. 
  • Temperature: The ideal temperature range for each type of enzyme may vary. But generally, too much cold decreases enzymes’ activity, and too much heat destroys them.

When pH or temperature alters an enzyme’s structure and function to the point that it no longer works, that enzyme is denatured


Technically, the concentration of enzymes doesn’t affect their activity, but it does speed up chemical reactions. 

Think of it this way: Bill and Dan are each building five miles of road, and their crews work at identical speeds. Bill has twice as many employees, so he finishes his road first. Enzymes work the same way. Highly concentrated enzymes complete their chemical reactions faster because more enzymes are doing the work—even though they work at the same speed as less concentrated enzymes.

To learn more about what happens when people use extra enzymes, check out our 7 Myths About Perma-Zyme blog.

What Our Enzyme Solutions Do  

At Substrata, we manufacture five enzyme solutions: 

  1. Perma-Zyme is a soil stabilizer for unpaved roads, paved roads, and over a dozen other projects.
  2. Surfa-Zyme is a topical dust suppressant.
  3. Harva-Zyme is a soil conditioner for growing bigger, healthier, more fruitful crops.
  4. Bacto-Zyme is a cleaner, degreaser, and odor remover. 
  5. Petra-Zyme is a petroleum remediation product. 

All of our products are 100% organic, non-toxic, and eco-friendly because they use enzymes instead of harsh chemicals. Let’s talk about what you can do with them! 

Improve Soil 

Soil in its natural state isn’t always ideal for human activities like driving on dirt roads or growing crops. Three of our enzyme solutions help improve or condition soil to make it more useful: Perma-Zyme, Surfa-Zyme, and Harva-Zyme.  

Stabilize Soil with Perma-Zyme 

Perma-Zyme is our most popular product, and we’ve been making this soil stabilizer for over 50 years! It’s made of a proprietary ingredient blend, so we can’t tell you everything that’s in it. But we can tell you that it’s all-natural and contains three hydrolase enzymes called protease, lipase, and chitinase. 

When you mix Perma-Zyme with clay-based soil and water, its enzymes cause a chemical reaction that permanently bonds the clay particles together. (Get it, Perma-Zyme?) This creates a hard, concrete-like surface that’s nearly impervious to water. 

Most customers use Perma-Zyme to create durable unpaved roads that last 10+ years with little to no maintenance. Some rural counties also use it to stabilize the subbase for paved roads. Plus, you can use Perma-Zyme for over a dozen non-road projects, like drilling pads and slope stabilization. 

Suppress Dust with Surfa-Zyme

Dust is no laughing matter; it can be deadly on jobsites and rural roads. Surfa-Zyme is a topical dust suppressant that creates a crust on the soil’s surface to prevent it from blowing into the air. It works in all climates and on various soil types.  

Fun fact: Surfa-Zyme is our youngest product. 

Condition Soil with Harva-Zyme

Enzymes play a significant  role in soil and plant health, especially in agriculture. To thrive, plants need an appropriate balance of enzymes dispersed throughout the soil. And if the soil’s natural composition is lacking—or if pesticides have degraded it—adding new enzymes can substantially improve soil quality and crop health.

Harva-Zyme is a soil conditioner that improves nutrient content and inspires deeper root systems. By helping break down organic matter and increasing plants’ ability to absorb nutrients, it improves crop size and yield. It also reduces the amount of water required to grow plants; since better root systems can process more water from the soil, they need less help from farmers. 

In addition to crops, Harva-Zyme also helps grass grow—even in some pretty inhospitable conditions. Prominent golf courses in Las Vegas used Harva-Zyme to give their greens a boost in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Clean and Remediate

One important function of enzymes is cleaning and odor control. Under the proper conditions, enzymes act as powerful solvents. We make two enzyme cleaners at Substrata: Bacto-Zyme and Petra-Zyme. 

So, how do they work? When you apply Bacto-Zyme or Petra-Zyme to contaminated surfaces, the enzymes catalyze a chemical reaction within the substrate to break the contaminant down into smaller molecules that are looser and easier to lift from the surface or substance you’re cleaning. 

Clean Surfaces and Eliminate Odors with Bacto-Zyme

Bacto-Zyme is a microbial cleaner, degreaser, and odor eliminator. People use it for everything from industrial parts washing to cleaning their carpet at home to making lice shampoo. Our friends at Trauth Dairy even used Bacto-Zyme to treat wastewater on their farm.

Remediate Petroleum with Petra-Zyme

Petra-Zyme is a petroleum remediation product that cleans water and soil after spills. One of our customers used Petra-Zyme to bathe a flock of geese that had been exposed to diesel and jet fuel. The geese were perfectly fine, with no negative side effects from the Petra-Zyme, and they returned to their pond squeaky clean.

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