A New Super Enzyme Breaks Down Plastic 6 Times Faster!

image: pixabay.com

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth have created a new super enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles. The process is 6 times faster than before.

So far, PET plastic (recycling polyethylene terephthalate), used for the production of single-use drink bottles, carpets, and clothing, has been broken down by the PETase enzyme, engineered by the same team. Now the researchers have added another enzyme, MHETase, to the process and managed to significantly speed it up. Both enzymes were found in a plastic-eating bug discovered in 2016 at a Japanese waste site. 

Prof. John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, and his team released the engineered version of the enzyme in 2018. If left on its own, PET needs hundreds of years to break down. Due to the engineered enzyme the process took just a few days. Now the team of McGeehan has gone even further by making the process six times faster!

The researchers found out that mixing PETase and MHETase would break down PET twice as fast as PETase alone. When connecting the two enzymes, the speed of the process tripled further more! With the help of the Diamond Light Source (a device using X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the Sun) McGeehan and his colleagues mapped the molecular structure of MHETase. That made possible the connection of PETase and MHETase and thus – the engineering of the new super enzyme.

Prof. McGeehan says that further experiments and successful developments will make possible the reduction of plastic pollution, as well as the usage of recycled PET instead of fossil fuels that are the basic source for plastic production.

This could be an actual light in the end of the tunnel as plastic pollution continues to be a major environmental issue. According to the new report of The Pew Charitable Trusts, by 2040 the plastic entering the ocean could reach up to 29 million metric tons per year. This is the equivalent of 50 kilograms plastic for every meter of the planet's coastline!

So now more that ever it is time to act. Recycle, reuse and stop buying plastic. Save the planet.

You can read the whole study by John McGeehan and his team here. It was first published on the 28th of September 2020.

Ask questions, find answers, and share your thoughts on pollution, recycling, sustainability, green design and the biggest challenges the world meets today by taking part in the international scientific conference "Green Sciences for Green Life" that will be held in Vienna from 8th to 11th of December, 2020. For more information: sgemviennagreen.org

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