Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The mass-produced material is ubiquitous: More than 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. The team inadvertently manipulated the enzyme to make it even more efficient in breaking down PET.

"After just 96 hours you can see clearly via electron microscopy that the PETase is degrading PET", said NREL structural biologist Bryon Donohoe. PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating bugs might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

"It is a modest improvement - 20% better - but that is not the point", said McGeehan. Together, such solutions deal with the consumer demand for plastic, and the outcome of plastic ending up in the ocean, but all fail to actually recycle a plastic bottle into a new plastic bottle, thereby reducing the consumer demand for oil.

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, agreed the enzyme could be useful but added: "A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem - waste - at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions".

PET is relatively easy to recycle, but over half of global PET waste is not collected for recycling, according to research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and only 7 percent of bottles are recycled into new bottles (most go into lower-value products).

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Prof Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond, told the journal PNAS: "The detail that the team were able to draw out from the results achieved on the I23 beamline at Diamond will be invaluable in looking to tailor the enzyme for use in large-scale industrial recycling processes".

PEF plastics, although bio-based, are not biodegradable, and would still end up as waste in landfills and in the seas, the NREL said in a report on its website.

"We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem", he added.

A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. "But the scientific community who ultimately created these 'wonder-materials, ' must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions". McGeehan is director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at University of Portsmouth. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

This animation shows a 360-degree rotation of the crystal structure of PETase (in green) with a docked PET polymer (in yellow) bound to the active site. The Guardian reported an worldwide team of researchers, building on that finding, began studying the bacterium to understand how it functioned - and then accidentally engineered it to be even better.

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