They design enzyme to degrade polluting plastics

They design enzyme to degrade polluting plastics

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Xinhua) – Scientists designed an enzyme that can degrade some of the most common polluting plastics, offering a potential solution to one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.
A study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could result in a recycling solution for millions of tons of plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which persist for hundreds of years in the environment.
Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth and Dr. Gregg Beckham of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy resolved the crystalline structure of PETasa, a newly discovered enzyme that degrades PET.
The researchers used this 3D information to understand how it works and during the study, they inadvertently designed an enzyme that is even better at degrading plastics than one found in nature.
The team first discovered that PETasa has some unusual characteristics, including a more open active site that can host artificial polymers instead of natural ones. The characteristic indicated that PETase could have evolved in an environment containing PET, which allows the enzyme to degrade PET.
“Although the improvement is modest, this unexpected discovery suggests that there is an opportunity to improve these enzymes, which brings us closer to a recycling solution for the growing mountain of discarded plastics,” said McGeehan.
The mutant enzyme can also degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a biological substitute for PET that is praised as a replacement for glass beer bottles.
“The design process is very similar to the enzymes currently used in biowashing detergents and in the manufacture of biofuels,” said McGeehan.
“There is technology and a good chance that in the next few years we will see an industrially viable process to convert PET and other substrates such as PEF, PLA and PBS into their original constituent blocks to recycle them in a sustainable way,” said McGeehan.

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