Scientists engineer plastic-eating enzyme

Posted at 10:41 PM, Apr 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-16 19:32:07-04

(RNN) – A new substance that "eats" plastic could take a major bite out of global pollution.

Research scientists have engineered an enzyme that digests common plastics, a discovery that came about by accident.

The scientists unintentionally engineered the enzyme while studying PETase, a recently discovered natural enzyme that digests a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, which can exist in the environment for centuries.

Researchers think the enzyme evolved in a Japanese waste recycling center.

As they studied the structure of the natural enzyme, the scientists realized they’d accidentally engineered a new enzyme that was even better at breaking down plastic than the one they’d been studying.  

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception," said Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, which conducted the research, along with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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

The teams’ findings were first published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.”

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