Isoenzymes were 'discovered' 20 years ago and were at first
regarded as interesting but rare occurrences. Since then a wealth
of information on enzyme heterogeneity has accrued and it now seems
likely that at least half of all enzymes exist as isoenzymes. This
is important in many areas of biological and medical science. Thus
isoenzyme studies have provided the main experimental substance for
the neutral drift controversy in genetics and evolution; they have
greatly extended our understanding of metabolic regulation not only
in animals but also in bacteria and plants; their existence has
made available a multitude of highly sensitive markers for the
study of differentiation and development, as well as providing
indices of aberrant gene expression in carcinogenesis and other
pathological processes. Iso- enzymes are also being used
increasingly in diagnostic clinical bio- chemistry. It is
surprising that this phenomenon which affects such a high pro-
portion of enzymes and is clearly important in biochemistry should
receive such scant attention in the standard textbooks of that
subject, the formal treatment of isoenzymology in these rarely
exceeding one or two pages. This may be because the 'pure
biochemist' has tended to regard variation in enzyme properties
between tissues more as an unwanted complication than as a
potential source of insight into diversity of biological function.
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