A new enzyme that could make laundry detergents more powerful stain removers has been discovered in a microbe from a mangrove swamp on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The new enzyme can break down stubborn animal and plant protein stains much faster and at higher temperatures than can enzymes now used as detergent additives, according to food scientists Todd W. Gusek and John E. Kinsella of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Enzymes called proteases, which break down proteins, are now found in about 40% of all laundry detergents. They are also used in the manufacture of cheeses, tenderization of meats and for improvement of bread doughs. Their total world market is about $300 million.
At 176 degrees Fahrenheit, the new enzyme, called YX protease, works 13 times faster than ones now commonly used in detergents.