Scientists Accidentally Make Plastic-Eating Bacteria Even More Efficient

Scientists Accidentally Make Plastic-Eating Bacteria Even More Efficient

Scientists have discovered an enzyme that can degrade some of the most common plastics on earth, according to a study published Tuesday.

The scientists in just such a scenario comprise an global team that was working off of a 2016 discovery of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic. The engineered enzyme represents the first option to recycle plastic bottles entirely with no apparent risk.

"Luck is often an important part of basic scientific research, and our discovery is no exception", said John McGeehan, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in Portsmouth, "Although the breakthrough is modest, this unexpected discovery suggests that there is room for further improvement of these enzymes, to bring us even closer to a recycling solution for this ever-growing body of plastic that no one seems to consider as important", he added. "It's great and a real finding".

The researchers are now focusing their efforts on improving the enzyme so that it may be able to industrially break down plastics in a fraction of the time.

"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".

"What we really need are system changes to reduce the volume of throwaway plastic packaging and make sure plastic drinks bottles are collected and separated effectively", said Edge.

This discovery is all the more important as the use of enzyme in plastic recycling would be a natural solution.

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Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, told The Guardian "Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms". With the new enzyme, PET could be efficiently broken down and used again.

Another significant aspect of the research: the discovery that PETase can also degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate, or PEF, a bio-based substitute for PET plastics.

In 2015, another study found between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, but in an interview with Reuters, McGeehan said he and his team are hopeful their research will lead to a large-scale recycling process. "It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even try to recycle". But while manipulating the enzyme, the worldwide team inadvertently improved its ability to devour plastic.

The pollution of the oceans worries scientists.

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) were examining the structure of a natural enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis, found in 2016 at a Japanese waste recycling center.

"The engineering process is much the same as for enzymes now being used in bio-washing detergents and in the manufacture of biofuels ― the technology exists", said McGeehan.

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