Scientists Create Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles

Scientists Create Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles

Another is the recently discovered enzyme that consumes PET plastics called PETase, which scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) used as a starting point for their groundbreaking research.

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.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research, and our discovery here is no exception", said study author John McGeehan, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.

The mutant enzyme is on another level when it comes to the speed needed to break down a plastic bottle as tests show it can eliminate it in a matter of days, compared with nature which would take centuries.

The researchers were initially inspired by the discovery of a bacterium in 2016 in Japan that had naturally evolved to eat plastic found at waste dumps.

She said: "The scourge of plastics is a global environmental challenge - and one that overwhelmingly impacts the livelihoods and health of the world's poorest people".

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

Working with United States colleagues, the Portsmouth scientists subjected PETase to intense X-ray beams at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

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During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is better still at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature. This suggests there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics'.

The research team can now apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it.

X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun are generated at the facility by accelerating electrons around a circular tunnel.

The cash will be used for grants, innovation challenges and events to raise the profile of the plastic problem and fund the development of alternative materials and new, zero-waste manufacturing processes.

Upon inspecting the model the teams found it looked very similar to another enzyme known as a cutinase.

The engineered enzyme has the added benefit of being able to degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a PET alternative that has been floated as a replacement for glass beer bottles.

Currently, recycled plastic is limited in its use as typically it is just re-used for other products such as clothing, but this breakthrough could allow for clear plastic bottles to be broken down and made once again into bottles.

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