The chemical reaction whereby plants such as yeast use sugar is remarkably similar to the metabolism of sugar in the human body. Yeast contains a mixture of 12 enzymes, which are collectively known as zymase. Most of these enzymes, including hexokinase, are identical to enzymes involved in the human metabolism of glucose. The principal difference occurs at the end of the chain of reactions; a glucose-decomposition product called pyruvic acid is converted in the body into lactic acid, but in plants it is converted by zymase into ethyl alcohol. See Fermentation.
Many problems in the physiology of sugar remain to be solved. Present work in this field has been accelerated since the discovery of tracer elements, especially radioactive carbon. Sugars, synthesized with radioactive carbon, can be followed through the body after ingestion.