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Enzymes are proteins that catalyze (i.e. accelerate) chemical reactions. In these reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process are called substrates, and the enzyme converts them into different molecules, the products. Almost all processes in the cell need enzymes in order to occur at significant rates. Since enzymes are extremely selective for their substrates and speed up only a few reactions from among many possibilities, the set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in that cell. Like all catalysts, enzymes work by lowering the activation energy (ΔG‡) for a reaction, thus dramatically accelerating the rate of the reaction. Most enzyme reaction rates are millions of times faster than those of comparable un catalyzed reactions. As with all catalysts, enzymes are not consumed by the reactions they catalyze, nor do they alter the equilibrium of these reactions. However, enzymes do differ from most other catalysts by being much more specific.

A catalyst decreases the activation energy of a chemical reaction. Catalysts participate in reactions but are neither reactants nor products of the reaction they catalyze. Catalysts work by providing an (alternative) mechanism involving a different transition state and lower activation energy. The effect of this is that more molecular collisions have the energy needed to reach the transition state. Hence, catalysts can perform reactions that, albeit thermodynamically feasible, would not run without the presence of a catalyst, or perform them much faster, more specific, or at lower temperatures. Catalysts cannot make energetically unfavorable reactions possible — they have no effect on the chemical equilibrium of a reaction because the rate of both the forward and the reverse reaction are equally affected. The net free energy change of a reaction is the same whether a catalyst is used or not; the catalyst just makes it easier to activate reaction helps to accelerate the same reaction. They work by providing an alternative pathway for the reaction to occur, thus reducing the activation energy and increasing the reaction rate. Catalysts generally react with one or more reactants to form a chemical intermediate that subsequently reacts to form the final product.

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