UK scientists produce enzyme that eats plastic

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"Being able to see the inner workings of this biological catalyst provided us with the blueprints to engineer a faster and more efficient enzyme", says McGeehan. However it is a much more hard process and an expensive one compared to other materials, but it seems that scientists might have come up with a way to deal with our plastic problem.

£25 million of the cash will go into supporting researchers develop new technical methods to approaching marine plastic waste; 20 million will be spent on reducing environmental pollution from the manufacturing process in developing countries, and a further 16.4 million will go into improving waste management systems. But they ended up accidentally engineering a "mutant" version of the enzyme that's even better at degrading PET plastic than the natural version found in the Japanese recycling center. The team's plan was to tweak the enzyme to see how it evolved, but it seems that their efforts at trying to better understand the enzyme inadvertently resulted in creating a more effective enzyme. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

Now the researchers are trying to improve the new enzyme so they can put it to work eating up all the plastic out there.

Scientists from Portsmouth University and the Diamond Light Source are part of an global team that has engineered an enzyme with the potential to digest certain plastics. Its findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

The researchers worked with scientists at Diamond Light Source (DLS) in the United Kingdom, deploying a synchrotron that uses intense beams of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun to act as a microscope powerful enough to see individual atoms.

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They found it was similar to an enzyme used by bacteria to break down cutin, a natural compound that serves as a protective coating on plants. The trait indicated that PETase may have evolved in a PET-containing environment to enable the enzyme to degrade PET.

Polythylene terephthalate or PET is one of the worst man-made plastics for recycling taking hundreds of years to break down into the environment.

The team set out to determine how the enzyme evolved and if it might be possible to improve it.

'There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics, ' Oliver Jones, a chemistry expert at RMIT University in Melbourne told ABC.

Professor Adisa Azapagic of the University of Manchester, UK, likewise agreed that the enzyme could prove useful, but stated concern that it could lead to other forms of pollution: "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".

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