And if plastics all became biodegradable ? American and British researchers have by chance designed an enzyme capable of destroying this type of material, which could help solve the global problem related to pollution related to certain packaging. If millions of tons of plastic are recycled each year, millions are burned with noxious fumes. Despite recycling efforts, the vast majority of these plastics can last for a thousand years. Some 9 million tonnes of plastics end up in the oceans every year, growing pockets of plastic fragments called “gyres”. The ” seventh continent The North Pacific thus created is as big as France six times. READ ALSO> Environment: 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced between 1950 and 2015 Many researchers are therefore looking for a way to fight against this “immortality” of plastic. Scientists from the Portsmouth University of the United Kingdom and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory focused on a bacterium discovered in Japan in 2016: Ideonella sakaiensis. This is what, under the microscope, ideonella sakaiensis looks like. DR Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 only feeds on one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in many plastic bottles. This appetite comes from one of its enzymes, PETase. An enzyme is a protein that facilitates a chemical reaction in a living body. A very slow swallowing The US-UK team has discovered the structure of this enzyme. “They have gone a step further by accidentally designing an enzyme that is even more effective at breaking down PET plastics,” than natural PETase according to the findings published Monday in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 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,” said John McGeehan, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in Portsmouth. “While 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 scrap plastics,” he continued. The study does not say – not yet – how to use the enzyme on a larger scale than in the laboratory. Nor what would happen if these enzymes were multiplied in nature. Once all these issues are resolved, the speed of swallowing of the enzyme, which is currently very slow (0.13 mg per 24 hours), will need to be increased. Currently, the fastest enzyme recycling is observed in Galleria Mellonella larvae, which can ingest 92 mg of a plastic bag in 12 hours.