Thursday, April 19, 2018

Accidentally Created Enzyme Can Break Down Plastics

 A team of scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have engineered an enzyme capable of digesting some of the most commonly polluting plastics. This discovery could eventually be used to recycle millions of tonnes of plastics made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment.
 While analyzing the crystal structure of PETase, a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET, the team inadvertently engineered an enzyme even more capable of degrading the plastic than the one that already exists in nature. The team is now working on an even better version of the enzyme capable of breaking down plastic in a fraction of the time.
 “Few could have predicted that since plastics became popular in the 1960s huge plastic waste patches would be found floating in oceans, or washed up on once pristine beaches all over the world," said Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Portsmouth. “We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’, must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions.”

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Image: Electron microscope image of an engineered enzyme digesting PET plastic via Dennis Schroeder/NREL

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