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Scientists develop plastic-eating enzyme

Scientists have accidentally developed a plastic-eating enzyme that can be used to combat one of the world's worst pollution problems. The discovery could provide a recycling solution for the tonnes of plastic bottles made of PET that currently persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

Apr 17, 2018 13:38 IST
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A group of researchers recently developed a plastic-eating enzyme, which can be used to fight one of the world’s biggest pollution problems.

The discovery was made by the researchers from Britain's University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) while examining the structure of a natural enzyme that was found in a waste recycling centre a few years ago in Japan.

The findings were published on April 16, 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study: Key Findings

• The enzyme - Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, is able to eat polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which was patented as plastic in the 1940s.

• The plastic is currently used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.

• The main aim of the researchers was to study its structure to aid protein engineering, however, they accidentally engineered an enzyme that was even better at breaking down PET plastics.

 

 

Significance

The discovery could provide a recycling solution for the tonnes of plastic bottles made of PET that currently persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

Besides this, the enzyme can degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a bio-based substitute for PET plastics that is being called as a replacement for glass beer bottles.

Though PEF plastics are bio-based, they are not biodegradable and as a result, end up as waste in landfills and water bodies.  

Background

According to a 3-year study published in Scientific Reports in March 2018, the huge pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is growing faster than expected and is now three times the size of France, more than double the size of Texas in the United States.

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