Scientists have just created an enzyme that rapidly breaks down plastic pollution

Last year, we shared the tragic impact of plastic pollution on some of the most beautiful places on our planet. It was not built out as a savior outfitted with recyclables, the solution to our growing plastic problem may seem far and complex.

However, we have seen some glimpses of hope from both human innovation and nature. In 2016, a bacterium that evolved with the ability to break down plastics was discovered in a Japanese waste site. Two years later, scientists succeeded in engineering the mutant plastic-feeding enzyme, which they named petas-polyethylene terephthalate, the most common plastic found in a bottle and in a packaging.

Here’s how those enzymes work:

Eliminating plastic pollution with designer bacteria


Now researchers have revealed another game-changer in plastic-eaters — one best– An enzyme that can break plastic six times faster than petas alone.

A super-enzyme is a bit of a frankenzyme, which is made by combining various enzymes together. “When we added enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we experienced a dramatic increase in activity,” Professor John McGeehan told the Guardian, at the University of Portsmouth, UK. “This is a trajectory to try to rapidly create enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But this is one of those stories of learning from nature and then bringing it to the laboratory.”

This new research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Combination enzymes can be important for completely recycling different types of plastics and composite materials. “Magihan said,” there are huge possibilities. “We’ve got several hundred in the lab we’re currently gluing together.”

For example, combining plastic-eating enzymes with existing enzymes that break down natural fibers may allow clothing made from composite materials to be recycled, McGihan told The Guardian. “Mixed clothes [of polyester and cotton] Are really hard to recycle. We are talking to some big fashion companies that produce these garments, because they are really struggling at the moment. ”

This latest research is not the first to improve the discovery of plastic-eating bacteria. In April, a French chemistry company called Carbios shared its own mutant enzyme that could degrade 90% of plastic bottles within 10 hours. However, the enzyme, which was originally discovered in a pile of compost leaves, requires heating above 70 ° C (about 160 ° F), while this new super-enzyme works at room temperature. .

It is not that it is a cut throat competition. We are talking about helping the whole planet and saving lives as we know it, after all. McGihan suggested that researchers work with the private sector to obtain enzymes that work in the real world. “If we can combine better, faster enzymes together and provide them to companies like Carboos, and work in partnership, we can start doing so within the next one or two years,” McGeehan told The Guardian told.

McGihan emphasized to CNN that the super-enzyme is “still too slow” to be commercially viable at this point, but it is a major step in the process. “We were actually quite surprised that it worked so well,” he told CNN.

Here science is coming up with solutions to the problems that human scientific progress has created, and here the process has to learn to be in better balance with nature.

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