Researchers discover enzyme that “eats plastic”

garbageIn this Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2018 photo earthmovers push mountains of garbage as seagulls fly over the country's largest landfill at Fyli on the outskirts of Athens. Greece has the European Union’s longest coastline, poor waste management and an addiction to single-use plastic that littering the country’s seabed. To fight the problems, volunteer divers are working as underwater garbage collectors to clear debris - mostly plastic - that is littering the sea floor. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A new enzyme that can quickly digest environmentally harmful plastics was discovered almost by chance by a group of British and American scientists.


The hope is that the enzyme can help recycle millions of tons of plastic that would otherwise take hundreds of years to break down,according to a report published by the University of Portsmouth.

The researchers have managed to improve the properties of an enzyme that is found naturally. The original enzyme is produced by a bacterium that was discovered a few years ago while recycling plastic bottles in Japan, according to the BBC.

Initially, researchers will investigate the structure of the natural enzyme. Slightly randomly, they found a method of changing it so that its appetite for plastic increased further.

“Luck often plays a significant role in basic research,” stated Professor John McGeehan.

The enzyme breaks down PET, the plastic type commonly used in bottles.

The modified enzyme can break down the substance within a few days.

Should the method work in practice, further changes may be necessary to make the breakdown process even faster.


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