Kate Shipova

By Danielle Pycior | Bond LSC

It’s the little things we take for granted, and for science experiments, one of those are enzymes.

French chemist Anselme Payen discovered the first enzyme, diastase, in 1833, but it wasn’t until 1877 that the word enzyme was used. While it’s a compact name, it’s really a category of proteins produced by living organisms that speed up chemical reactions regardless of whether it’s in the body or the test tube. The way these proteins are folded make their chemical interaction very specific, but when they bind with the right molecules, they speed up reactions hundreds or thousands of times. Since their first discovery, researchers have found thousands more enzymes that play an integral role in even more scientific discoveries.

A program on the second floor of Bond Life Sciences Center gives scientists the small something they need to make those discoveries. The Enzyme Freezer Program — part of the MU Genomics Technology Core— began in the 1990s and has grown to provide enzymes for 120 different labs across the University of Missouri campus.

Though it has become a staple in the science community, allowing researchers to walk down the stairs or make a call across campus to find what they need, this convenience helps quickly and quietly move science forward.

“Modern research requires a lot of expensive things,” said Kate Shipova, freezer program specialist. “For end-users, it’s convenient because they can come and buy something immediately.”

Shipova spends her days talking with sales representatives and vendors, fixing problems and finding researchers the substances they need to continue searching for answers. The lab is lined with refrigerators and freezers, all stocked full of substances used every day in labs around campus and around the world for anything from genome sequencing to nucleic acid purification.

Nowadays, it’s normal to have fairly easy access to any substance scientists may need for their research, but generations ago this would have been difficult to imagine. Walter Gassmann, Bond LSC interim director and professor of plant sciences, recalled visiting a colleague in Morocco who works for its government. She has to order everything she needs for her lab an entire year in advance, while MU researchers can get what they need on a whim if needed.

“I think it’s too easy to take things for granted that was more work before, and this really accelerates your research,” Gassmann said. “It helps not having to plan far in advance.”

The program has numerous chemicals in stock and the ability special order almost any enzyme a researcher may need, shipping it for free and at a discounted price. Nathan Bivens, assistant director of the MU Genomics Technology Core, said most of the chemicals are used for molecular biology or proteomics research, so the common reagents they keep in stock work with RNA and DNA.

“It’s really an advantage to a researcher who wants to make that grant dollar stretch since it’s a much more affordable option,” Bivens said. “Plus, it’s here and readily available. You have the ability to come here and get the reagent quickly.”

In many parts of the world, researchers aren’t so lucky to work in a place with resources this readily available, with a staff dedicated to helping. Shipova and Bivens work to make researchers’ lives easier by providing the chemicals they need at an affordable price, and scientists such as Gassmann appreciate all of the hard work they do.

“In other countries, an enzyme has to be shipped, and it can get stuck in customs and it doesn’t get treated right. Here things are so much easier.”

What was once only a dream for scientists who couldn’t so readily access the tools they need is now a common and easily accessible program. While new technologies and methods continue to take the spotlight, freezer programs and those who run them will continue working in buildings like Bond LSC to quickly make reactions happen.