Scientists hope new enzyme will 'eat' plastic pollution

Scientists have accidentally developed a plastic-eating enzyme that may be used to combat one of the world's worst po...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 12:09 AM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 12:09 AM

Scientists have accidentally developed a plastic-eating enzyme that may be used to combat one of the world's worst pollution problems.

Researchers from Britain's University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme found in a waste recycling center a few years ago in Japan.

They say the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, is able to "eat" polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which was patented as a plastic in the 1940s and is used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.

Their aim was to study its structure, but they accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics.

"We hoped to determine its structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics," said NREL's lead researcher Gregg Beckham.

The discovery could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles made of PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment, the University of Portsmouth said on its website.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception," said Professor McGeehan, director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.

The enzyme can also degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate, or PEF, a bio-based substitute for PET plastics that is being hailed as a replacement for glass beer bottles.

PEF plastics, although bio-based, are not biodegradable, and would still end up as waste in landfills and in the seas, the NREL said in a report on its website.

"Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics," said McGeehan.

The researchers, whose finding was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, are now working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time, the University of Portsmouth added.

The NREL underscored the urgency of the work, pointing out that 8 million metric tons of plastic waste, including PET bottles, enter the oceans each year, creating huge man-made islands of garbage.

"Experts estimate that by 2050, there will be as much waste plastic in the ocean by mass as there are fish," it said.

According to a three-year study published in Scientific Reports last month, a huge, swirling pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is growing faster than expected and is now three times the size of France, more than double the size of Texas.

"Few could have predicted that in the space of 50 years, single-use plastics such as drink bottles would be found washed up on beaches across the globe," said McGeehan.

"We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem," he added. "But the scientific community who ultimately created these 'wonder-materials' must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 587049

Reported Deaths: 9287
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion810691296
Lake44121665
Allen31797541
Hamilton28178303
St. Joseph26684369
Elkhart24057340
Vanderburgh18519213
Tippecanoe17305121
Johnson14398284
Porter14342159
Hendricks13793241
Madison10509212
Vigo10432171
Clark10151129
Monroe9029108
Delaware8782129
LaPorte8721153
Kosciusko784677
Howard7834137
Warrick636790
Hancock633297
Bartholomew624294
Floyd6098105
Wayne5903156
Grant5799109
Dubois541670
Boone531467
Morgan512388
Marshall492484
Henry491164
Cass469060
Noble458757
Dearborn454544
Jackson413145
Shelby401178
Lawrence379475
Clinton363639
Gibson355056
DeKalb336363
Montgomery333851
Harrison326042
Knox325439
Miami308243
Steuben304940
Adams294435
Whitley292325
Wabash291645
Ripley290845
Putnam282447
Huntington281257
Jasper280733
White265738
Daviess260772
Jefferson248538
Fayette241348
Decatur241282
Greene232460
Posey230026
Wells228547
LaGrange223461
Clay216432
Scott216437
Randolph207540
Jennings191335
Sullivan188531
Spencer179917
Fountain178625
Washington175018
Starke170741
Jay162021
Fulton158829
Owen157837
Carroll151315
Orange150533
Rush148118
Perry145327
Vermillion144333
Franklin142533
Parke12788
Tipton127332
Pike113125
Blackford107022
Pulaski94637
Newton89020
Brown85530
Benton84110
Crawford7479
Martin69213
Warren6537
Switzerland6175
Union6063
Ohio4647
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 821507

Reported Deaths: 10135
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin96935704
Cuyahoga81526972
Hamilton60913438
Montgomery41445399
Summit33096726
Lucas29981591
Butler29513227
Stark24608400
Warren18792139
Lorain17916207
Mahoning16710335
Lake15255135
Clermont15053104
Delaware1374277
Licking12595132
Trumbull12352301
Fairfield1211380
Greene11532132
Medina11033165
Clark10557264
Wood9901154
Allen9481126
Portage8802105
Miami880173
Richland8748116
Marion7305113
Tuscarawas7095174
Columbiana7047124
Pickaway699850
Wayne6729162
Muskingum665342
Erie5866117
Hancock537090
Ross526087
Scioto514862
Geauga478255
Darke456089
Ashtabula437268
Union429228
Lawrence428951
Mercer423387
Sandusky419062
Seneca411755
Auglaize410959
Huron409138
Shelby408521
Jefferson400466
Belmont392840
Washington367940
Putnam363672
Athens36229
Madison337928
Knox334922
Ashland329138
Fulton324243
Defiance317078
Crawford311968
Preble310034
Brown294419
Logan291829
Ottawa280534
Clinton278143
Williams268966
Highland261318
Jackson255243
Guernsey239425
Champaign239227
Fayette224529
Morrow22194
Perry220517
Holmes217562
Henry208847
Hardin203032
Coshocton197120
Van Wert196244
Wyandot189949
Gallia189126
Adams165515
Pike163416
Hocking161923
Carroll148016
Paulding139021
Noble117540
Meigs102421
Monroe95227
Harrison8578
Morgan78227
Vinton65613
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 21°
Angola
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 28°
Huntington
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 20°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 21°
Lima
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 21°
Seasonal Monday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events