Advertisement

Scientists accidentally produce an enzyme that devours plastic

Scientists accidentally produce an enzyme that devours plastic
From Engadget - April 17, 2018

The surprise discovery was made when scientists began investigating the structure of a bacterium found in a waste dump in Japan. The bug produced an enzyme, which the team studied using the Diamond Light Source, an intense beam of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun. At first, the enzyme looked similar to one evolved by many kinds of bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used by plants as a protective layer. But after some gentle manipulation, the team actually improved its ability to eat PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the type of plastic used in drinks bottles.

Speaking to The Guardian, Professor John McGeehan, who led the research from the University of Portsmouth, said the discovery was "a bit of a shock," but that it could have a significant impact on the mounting global plastics problem. PET bottles that are currently recycled can only be turned into fibers for clothing and carpets. The mutant enzyme could be used to turn plastic back into its original components. "It means we wo not need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment," said McGeehan.

Advertisement

Continue reading at Engadget »