This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: The Enzyme Enterprise

In 1996, the Department of Justice allowed Genencor International Inc. to acquire the international enzyme business of Solvay S.A. after Genencor agreed to license and supply technology of starch processing enzymes to another company, Nagase Biochemicals Ltd.The third party involvement was aimed to ease anticompetitive concerns that the acquisition would decrease competition in the U.S. markets “for sale of alpha amylase and glucoamylase enzymes used for processing starch-containing raw materials, usually corn, into sugar-containing syrups, such as high fructose corn syrup, and into fuel alcohol.”Genencor has licensed Nagase Biochemicals the “right to make, have made, use and sell alpha amylase and glucoamylase enzymes” that were previously marketed by Solvay.The existing microorganisms used in preparation of these enzymes as well as all production information were to be turned over to Nagase Biochemicals.In addition, Nagase Biochemicals gained the right to use Solvay enzyme trademarks that were being sold in North America.“The license agreement with Nagase has resolved the Department’s competitive concerns by providing Nagase with the ability to become a long-term, viable competitor with proven starch-processing enzyme technology that is currently being successfully marketed by Solvay.”


Case Author:
Mindy Jean Deason Emory University:Center for Science Education

Case Analysis

In small groups outside of class, students will prepare answers to the following questions.Each group will be assigned one “factual” based question and one more open ended question.A printed copy should be brought to class for discussion and the answers should be in a format that can be posted on email for other students to view.For the open ended question, prepare a 10 minute presentation to present your findings….be creative!There is no format you must follow but remember your audience and your time limit.Everyone in the group must be involved in the presentation. “Factual” Based Questions:

1-Describe the structure of alpha amylase (domains, binding sites, etc)

2-How does alpha amylase break down starch?

3-Where are commercial sources of alpha amylase obtained?Give examples and pros/cons of using them.

4-Describe the difference between alpha amylase, beta amylase, amyloglucosidase, pullalanase, and isomerase.

5-Give a brief overview of the steps involved in producing high fructose corn syrup (flow diagram may be useful).

6-The breakdown of starch is often catalyzed at very high temperatures (100°C).Why is the high temperature needed?

“Open-Ended” Questions:

1-Do you believe that the Department of Justice made the correct decision by allowing Genencor to acquire Solvay?How much regulation to you believe the government should have over the exchange of science?

2-The European Union has a set quota on the production of high fructose syrup.Argue for the use of set quotas.

3-The European Union has a set quota on the production of high fructose syrup.Argue against the use of set quotas.

4-What disadvantages could the use of novel sweeteners bring to farmers where sugar cane is produced. Explain specific examples.

5-Argue in favor or against (you must choose one) of enzyme producers being allowed to patent new enzymes they create by “protein engineering.”

6-In the United States, the use of high-fructose syrup dramatically increased after the take-over by the communist regime in Cuba.How can the two events be related?

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals


1- to connect knowledge of marcomolecules to enzymes

2- to understand the importance of structure to function in enzymes

3- to explore topics of ownership of science and government regulation



Investigations and Activities

Although this case study involves the lecture portion of the course, a simple lab where students use alpha amylase to break down starch (potatoe, etc) may serve as a nice complement.
The use of the web and evaluating sources is another important aspect of this project



1-Biology 141 text book for review of starch and enzymes.

2-Genecor site:

3-Solvay site:

4-Protein families database of alignments and HMMs _ Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute:

5-Hwang KY, Song HK, Chang C, Lee J, Lee SY, Kim KK, Choe S, Sweet RM, Suh SW, “Crystal structure of thermostable alpha-amylase from Bacillus licheniformis refined at 1.7 A resolution” Mol Cells 1997 Apr 30;7(2):251-8:

6-Corn Refiners Association:

Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items


Student Products

Student products will vary.

For their open ended question, a poster, skit, powerpoint presentation, handout, etc. would be appropriate.Here are a sample answer for a factual based question:

Alpha amylase structure: (courtesy of

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Students will be assessed on the quality and timeliness of posting of the answers to their factual questions.

Their presentation will be evaluated based on creativity, thoroughness, and maintaining time limit.

After discussion in class, each student will be asked to continue discussion via internet conference and will receive a participation factor for postings.

Students will also be asked to do both an evaluation sheet of the assignment and of their group.



Course name:
Biology 141
Likely sequence in syllabus:
After macromolecule chapter but before the chapter on enzymes.Case will be used to apply the information learned about proteins, polysaccrides, etc to enzymatic activity
Time during term:
Beginning of semester
Brief overview of case and expectations at the end of class (~10 minutes); presentations and discussion for full lecture.
Students in course:
Mainly freshman/sophomore; Mainly majors and pre-med students
Collaborative elements:
Work in groups; learnlink online discussion
Additional notes:



Stanley, Ethel, and Keith Stanley, “Looking into Glycosidases: A Bioinformatics Resource for Biology Students”

Coutouly, Gerald (unit Co-ordinator) “Biscuits and Biotechnology” European Initiative for Biotechnology Education

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