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Understanding How Enzymes Help Keep Clothes Clean

Scientists from Novozymes and two Swedish research institutions have been honored with The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) Distinguished Paper Award, recognizing the best 2007 research article that appeared in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents.

The innovative use of an advanced microscopic technique that visualizes and quantifies how enzymes work in laundry detergents to better clean cotton fibers is at the heart of research honored with the The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) Distinguished Paper Award.

Sponsored by SDA and the Surfactants and Detergents Division of the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), the award honors the best technical paper published in 2007 in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents (10:211-218). The Award was presented during the 99th AOCS Annual Meeting and Expo in Seattle, Washington.

Scientists from Novozymes and two leading Swedish research institutions authored the honored paper, “Imaging the Detergency of Single Cotton Fibers with Confocal Microscopy: the Effect of Surfactants and Lipases.”

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»Lipase »Novozymes »SDA »Soil »enzyme

The research utilized a specialized biophysical microscopy technique (known as fluorescence confocal laser scanning microscopy) to visualize and quantify the effects of a new commercial lipase (lipid degrading enzyme) in assisting the detergency process of removing fats and oils from cotton fibers.

This work is the fruit of a successful collaboration between Novozymes and the two Swedish institutions, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Institute for Surface Chemistry Institute (YKI), with the primary aim of understanding deeper the dynamics of enzymes in a wash process where they interact with detergent components and the fabric/soil load.

One of the major challenges in modern biotechnology is to generate and select relevant biological diversity (in this case enzyme variants) which create value in the application of a customer. This research helped guide scientists’ understanding of the structure/function biophysical properties of the enzyme and how they can be optimized under conditions of use.

“In this research, we created a model system for a wash process to study how the removal of fats and oils from fabric is influenced by the presence of LipexTM, a novel detergent lipase from Novozymes,” said Novozymes Senior Manager Thomas Callisen, one of the honored researchers. “Our microscopy technique allows us, in real time, to zoom in on what happens at the level of single fibers.

“We observe how an oily soil primarily rolls up – at the oil/fiber interface – and detaches from the surface, whereas a more solid-like fatty soiling is found to leave the fabric via necking of emulsion particles from the fat/liquid interface.”

Callisen added that the experiments showed that the lipase – by converting the lipid soil into more water soluble components – accelerates and increase the degree of removal of fats and oils from the fabric surfaces.

“We find that the beneficial effects of the lipase technology are most pronounced in the case of the tougher-to-remove fatty soils,” said Callisen. “As discussed and concluded in our paper, these results corroborate and add further detail to our understanding of the process of enzymatic detergency by lipases.”

Besides Mr. Callisen (who is based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark), the honored researchers include Andreas Sonesson and Ulla Elofsson of the Institute for Surface Chemistry in Stockholm; and Hjalmar Brismar of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

The Soap and Detergent Association (, the Home of the U.S. Cleaning Product and Oleochemical Industries®, is the non-profit trade association representing manufacturers of household, industrial, and institutional cleaning products, their ingredients and finished packaging; oleochemical producers; and chemical distributors to the cleaning product industry. SDA members produce more than 90 percent of the cleaning products marketed in the U.S. The SDA is located at 1500 K Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005.

Brian Sansoni | newswise
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