Scientists accidentally engineer plastic-eating enzyme

Scientists accidentally engineer a plastic-eating enzyme

The nature-based network will bring together its global network of scientists and academics to support the fund's vision and provide targeted funding to improve recycling and waste management so the volume of plastic pollution in the oceans can be measurably reduced.

The team discovered that they had inadvertently made the enzyme better than its original form at digesting the plastic.

McGeehan's team, including researchers at the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), stumbled onto their mutant tweak while investigating the crystal structure of PETase - the enzyme that helps the Japanese microbe, Ideonella sakaiensis, break down PET plastics (aka polyethylene terephthalate). During this study, they unintentionally engineered an enzyme that is better still at degrading the plastic than the one that has already evolved.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception", John McGeehan, a structural biologist from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said. Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is much more room to further improve these enzymes, moving scientists closer to solving the problem of an ever-growing amount of discarded plastics that take centuries to biodegrade.

The corporations flooding the market with single-use plastics need to do better. So, the researchers improved the structure of bacteria by adding amino acids.

The findings are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (link down at time of writing). This ultra-powerful microscope is able to fire intense X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, giving the scientists the ability to examine the 3D atomic structure of the enzyme.

Is your name on the new hurricane list?
The retired names will be replaced by Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel and will make their debut during the 2023 hurricane season. Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm in late August and dropped more than 60 inches of rain over Texas.

Increasing the volume of plastic that is recycled could significantly cut the amount that finds its way into the sea, which now stands at about a truck load every single minute worldwide.

According to Innova Market Insights data, 58 percent of globally launched food and beverage products are packaged in plastic, a 5 percent increase from 2013, while 96 percent of all newly launched water products in 2017 are packaged in PET bottles. Scientists claim to have created mutants that eat plastic bottles.

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest parts, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood.

Douglas Kell, a professor of bio-analytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work "should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further".

Originally discovered in Japan, the enzyme is produced by a bacterium which "eats" PET. "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".

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