A group of researchers recently developed a plastic-eating enzyme, which can be used to fight one of the world’s biggest pollution problems. The discovery was made by the researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) while examining the structure of a natural enzyme that was found in a waste recycling centre a few years ago in Japan.
The discovery could provide a recycling solution for the tonnes of plastic bottles made of PET that currently persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Besides this, the enzyme can degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a bio-based substitute for PET plastics that is being called as a replacement for glass beer bottles.Though PEF plastics are bio-based, they are not biodegradable and as a result, end up as waste in landfills and water bodies.
1. The enzyme – Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, is able to eat polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which was patented as plastic in the 1940s.
2. The main aim of the researchers was to study its structure to aid protein engineering, however, they accidentally engineered an enzyme that was even better at breaking down PET plastics.
3. The plastic is currently used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.