Thursday, 19 Apr 2018
World

Scientists accidentally create an enzyme that devours plastic bottles

This bacterium feeds only on a certain type of plastic, which goes into the composition of many bottles. Their discovery could contribute to solving the global problem related to this type of pollution. American and British researchers have accidentally devised an enzyme capable of destroying plastic, according to a study published Monday, April 16 in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences ( PNAS , in English). More than eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year, raising concerns about the toxicity of this petroleum derivative and its impact on the health of future generations and the environment. Despite recycling efforts, the vast majority of these plastics can last for hundreds of years. Scientists are looking for a way to better eliminate them. Scientists from the Portsmouth University of the United Kingdom and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory focused their efforts on a bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago: Ideonella sakaiensis . It feeds only on one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in many plastic bottles. Japanese researchers believe that this bacterium has evolved quite recently in a recycling center, because plastics were only invented in the 1940s. The goal of the US-UK team was to understand the operation of one of its enzymes called PETase, by discovering its structure. “But they went a step further by accidentally designing an enzyme that is even more effective at breaking down PET plastics.” , according to the findings of the study. Scientists from the University of South Florida and Campinas University of Brazil also participated in experiments that resulted in the chance mutation of a much more potent enzyme than natural PETase. Scientists are now working to improve performance in hopes of eventually being able to use it in an industrial process of destroying plastics. Luck often plays an important role in basic scientific research and our discovery is no exception. John McGeehan, Professor at Portsmouth School of Biological Sciences “Although the advance 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 the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics” , adds John McGeehan. Read also Related topics

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