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Newly Discovered Enzyme Could “Eat” Plastic Pollution
By Ian Bongso-Seldrup, April 20, 2018 @ 12:00 AM (EST)
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Researchers from the UK’s University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have stumbled on a plastic-eating enzyme that could be deployed to solve the crisis surrounding plastic pollution.

The scientists were examining the structure of a natural enzyme from a Japanese waste recycling center when they chanced upon the discovery. The natural enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, has some ability to break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic patented in the 1940s that is used in millions of tons of plastic products piling up in landfills—and making their way to the ocean—every year. The accidentally engineered new enzyme is even better at “eating” PET plastics and can also break down polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a bio-based substitute for PET that isn’t biodegradable and so still piles up as waste. 

It is estimated that eight million tons of plastic waste, PET bottles included, enter the oceans each year, and that by 2050, there will be as much waste plastic in the ocean by mass as there are fish. A recent study concluded that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing faster than ever and now covers an area more than twice the size of Texas.

The University of Portsmouth says work is ongoing to further improve the enzyme so that it can break down plastics faster and on an industrial scale.

Read more here.



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