Plastic-Digesting Enzyme Accidentally Created For the First Time

Plastic-digesting enzyme accidentally created for the first time by scientists during a recent experiment. A mutant enzyme could help resolve the worldwide plastic pollution crisis.

Scientists accidentally created a mutated version when they were conducting an experiment on enzyme discovered in a couple of years ago in a waste recycling center in Japan, according to the Energy Department lab. This new discovery could reduce plastic waste in future, enabling the full recycling of bottles.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory were examining to see how this enzyme works.

Researchers tweaked a plastic-munching enzyme’s physical structure, making it more effective at resolving polyethylene terephthalate – PET – the plastic found in water bottles. PETs have only existed since the 1940s and are not biodegradable.

Now, the researchers are working making the enzyme more successful at breaking down plastics in a fraction of its current rate.

Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable, and can be produced in large amounts by the microorganisms (bacteria and fungi). Although most people don’t know it, enzymes already help us out in many areas of everyday life such biological laundry detergents and in the food, leather, and textiles industries,” Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University who was not involved in the study, said in a statement.

During the experiment, senior scientist Bryon Donohoe at the Energy Department lab and researcher Nic Rorrer found that enzyme, called PETase in plastic soda bottles degraded PET after just 96 hours through electron microscopy.


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