Accidentally Plastic-eating Enzyme engineered, holds potential to fight Pollution

Accidentally Plastic-eating Enzyme engineered, holds potential to fight Pollution

We may have a new weapon in our fight against the rising tide of plastic pollution - and it was discovered by accident.

The discovery by researchers in the United Kingdom and U.S. could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles and food containers made of polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET.

These mutant enzymes with a taste for waste could lead to the full recycling of single-use bottles.

As the researchers were using the 3D information of this stucture to understand how it works, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is better still at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature.

The worldwide team, led by Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, UK, tested the evolutionary process of the enzyme, inadvertently discovering that they had improved the capabilities of the enzyme in breaking down PET bottles.

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While the mutant PETase is so far only about 20 percent more efficient at breaking down plastic than the naturally occurring enzyme, the team says the important thing is we now know these enzymes can be optimised and augmented.

Despite recycling efforts, most plastic can persist for hundreds of years in the environment, so researchers are searching for better ways to eliminate it.

The paper, "Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase", will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

A high definition 3D model of the enzyme was created, using the powerful x-ray beamline at Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire.

National Geographic will commit $10 million (£7m) and bring its scientific expertise, grants and media to support the activities of Sky Ocean Ventures, which seeks out investment opportunities in businesses that can help solve the ocean plastic crisis.

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Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and they did it completely by accident.

With the new enzyme, however, the idea is it that it can be put to use to turn old plastic into new plastic.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the US Energy Department´s National Renewable Energy Laboratory chose to focus on a naturally occurring bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago.

Oliver Jones, a chemist from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, tells The Guardian, "Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms".

"What actually happened was that we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock", said John McGeehan. "There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics".

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According to Innova Market Insights data, 58 percent of globally launched food and beverage products are packaged in plastic, a 5 percent increase from 2013, while 96 percent of all newly launched water products in 2017 are packaged in PET bottles.

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