Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – unintentionally. The breakthrough might facilitate solve the worldwide plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the primary time the total utilization of bottles.
“What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, began by determining the precise structure of the enzyme created by the Japanese bug.
The international team then tweaked the enzyme to check how it had evolved, however tests showed that they had unknowingly created the molecule even higher at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for beverage bottles.
“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. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
the new research is very exciting work, showing there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem
“It is a modest improvement – 20% better – but that is not the point,” said McGeehan. “It’s incredible because it tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.”
Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, in agreement the enzyme can be helpful however added: “A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem – waste – at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions.”