Fortuitously Produced Enzyme Eats Plastic Helping Combat Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution and water bottles raising concerns	
		By Kenny Smith- 16th April 2018FacebookTwitterGoogle+WhatsAppEmail

"What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic", said McGeehan. However it is a much more hard process and an expensive one compared to other materials, but it seems that scientists might have come up with a way to deal with our plastic problem.

Scientists have accidentally developed a plastic-eating enzyme that may be used to combat one of the world's worst pollution problems, a media report said. Little of this is recycled, which means we are polluting our environment with materials that take centuries to degrade, much of which washes out into the ocean where it breaks into tiny pieces that are almost impossible to track, let alone clean up.

"I'm excited that we share the same vision and understand the pressing need to take action and find meaningful solutions to the plastics problem".

Now however, The Guardian is reporting that the discovery of an enzyme in a Japanese dump in 2016 has now reaped dividends enormously thanks to an accidental breakthrough made by a team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth, UK. Its findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10bn times brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

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The structure was found to be very similar to that of the bacteria capable of breaking-down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants.

One possible improvement being explored is to transplant the mutant enzyme into an "extremophile bacteria" that can survive temperatures above the 70C melting point of PET - the plastic is likely to degrade 10-100 times faster when molten.

Hypothesising that the PETase enzyme must have evolved in the presence of PET to figure out how to degrade the plastic, the researchers mutated PETase's active site, to see if they could bring it closer to another enzyme, called cutinase. They believe it could offer a viable long-term and large-scale solution to global plastic pollution by supporting a circular recycling model in which plastics are broken-down and reused at end-of-life.

Prof McGeehan said: "The engineering process is much the same as for enzymes now being used in bio-washing detergents and in the manufacture of biofuels - the technology exists and it's well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET and potentially other substrates like PEF, PLA, and PBS, back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled". "It will be interesting to see whether, based on this study, the performance of the enzyme can be improved and made suitable for industrial-scale application in the recycling and the future circular economy of plastic". No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.

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