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Shipworms bring you another washday miracle.

The next environmentally friendly detergents for home and industrial use may contain a stain remover made by an unnamed bactenum found in a gland in shipworms.

From among many proteins spewed out by the bacterium, ARS scientists have isolated one, a protease, or enzyme, that digests other proteins such as those in bloodstains or spilled milk.

At a laboratory in the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Illinois, the bacterium has been coaxed into producing the enzyme by itself and does it quite well in an aerated fermentation broth containing cellulose and nitrates.

"Nonphosphate detergents that get clothes clean without wrecking the environment may well include the alkaline protease enzyme," says chemist Harold L. Griffin, who works at the center. The protease removes stains and brightens clothes in laundry water made highly alkaline by some components of nonphosphate detergents.

It's as efficient at room temperature as it is at normal wash temperatures of about 12([Degrees]F At the higher temperature, the enzyme remains highly active for at least an hour, and "It even thrives in laundry water that includes bleach and other detergent additives," he says.

The enzyme's compatibility with bleaching agents such as sodium perborate and myriad components in detergent formulations contributes to its commercial potential. Three major firms have expressed interest in the enzyme. Griffin and coinventors Richard V. Greene and Michael A. Cotta have applied for a patent.

In laboratory tests, the enzyme worked well in water containing oxidizing and chelating agents as well as with large amounts of salt. With few or no detrimental effects from a broad range of alkaline and acidic environments (pH values between 3.0 and 11.0), the enzyme could become an ingredient in many products. Possibilities Griffin cites include household cleansers, leather dehairing agents, and contact lens cleaning solutions.

For laundry detergents and presoaks, the scientist envisions the protease taking its place along with several other enzymes including lipases, amylases, and cellulases to enhance removal of different kinds of biological stains.

An enzyme called endoglucanase, also produced by the bacterium, might even be included in specialty detergents. Acting in concert with protease, endoglucanase modifies the surface of cotton fibers to enhance stain removal and give fabrics a stone-washed look.

Laundry detergents containing at least one enzyme make up a $269 million world market today and are projected to reach a value of more than $400 million by 1996.--By Ben Hardin, ARS.

Harold L Griffin, Michael A. Cotta, and Richard V. Greene are at the USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research 1815 N. University, St., Peoria, IL 61604. Phone (309) 685-4011, fax number (309) 671-7814.

Termites of the Sea

Marine shipworms, notorious for boring into wooden hulls and pilings, are mollusks in the family Teredinidae. The shipworms grow out of their bivalve shells to lengths up to 6 feet.

They have something called the gland of Deshayes, somewhat akin to a salivary gland. It harbors a bacterium that secretes enzymes that enter the worm's esophagus and digest wood fragments. The bacterium parlays nitrogen from seawater into protein like nutrients for the shipworm's diet while being nourished by metabolites produced by the shipworm.

ARS scientists in Peoria were first intereted in the rare, if not unique microbe as means to convert cellulose-laden crop residues into nutritious animal feeds. The idea didn't pan out because the right environment couldn't be achived to allow the bacteria to fix enough nitrogen quickly.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on marine shipworms; stain-removing enzyme
Author:Hardin, Ben
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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