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Mutant enzyme breaks down plastic bottles

Posted on Tuesday, 17 April, 2018 | Comment icon 14 comments

Could an end to plastic pollution be in sight ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 epSos.de
Scientists have inadvertently created a mutant enzyme capable of breaking down common waste plastics.
In a breakthrough that could prove invaluable in the battle against ocean pollution, scientists studying a type of plastic-eating bacterium found in Japan have managed to produce an enzyme that has proven enormously effective at breaking down PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic.

The achievement was entirely accidental as the team had only tweaked the enzyme in order to learn more about how it had evolved, not to deliberately improve its effectiveness.

"What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said study leader Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth. "It's great and a real finding."

Remarkably, the new enzyme starts to break down plastic within a matter of days.

"What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic," said McGeehan.

"It means we won't need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (14)

Tags: Plastic, Enzyme

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by Hankenhunter on 17 April, 2018, 23:26
Kinda like how gun powder was invented? I can imagine his surprise (after he checked to see if all his bits were still there and he extinguished his eyebrows) after mixing a few harmless compounds together and getting them too close to a heat source. Science can be funny especially when you're standing further back. Hank
Comment icon #6 Posted by ChaosRose on 18 April, 2018, 11:26
Anyone think it's not such great news? It has always been an issue that this might become a food source for something, and then everything we use plastic for is in jeopardy. We use it for a lot of stuff.  If we can control it, great.   
Comment icon #7 Posted by NicoletteS on 18 April, 2018, 13:43
I had the same reaction. Yeah that' great for cleanup but it eats plastic in a matter of days doesn' this mean the total destruction of everything plastic which we use for everything? So what happens when it gets loose and a couple days later all our food and drinks are not viable... along with every single  plastic part in everything we use? Is my phone going to disentigrate?
Comment icon #8 Posted by David D Stevens on 18 April, 2018, 14:29
Anyone else remember The Plastic Eaters episode of the BBC science fiction series Doomwatch ? A plane dissolves in mid-air, its plastic components eaten away. Doomwatch faces its first challenge: to halt the disastrous spread of a man-made virus with the power to melt all plastic.
Comment icon #9 Posted by ChaosRose on 19 April, 2018, 0:59
That's scary!
Comment icon #10 Posted by seanjo on 19 April, 2018, 11:20
So the waste product of the enzyme is carbon?
Comment icon #11 Posted by mysticwerewolf on 21 April, 2018, 6:41
my first thought was to wonder if it could be mixed with salt water so we can get rid of the great pacific garbage dump, but if I understood right it turns the plastic back into a petroleum product which is really no better than the plastic is for the oceans. it is most likely harmful to sea life anyways. 
Comment icon #12 Posted by Jon the frog on 27 April, 2018, 17:48
Making some OGM marine bacteria would be great !
Comment icon #13 Posted by Vilasarius on 27 April, 2018, 19:50
Glad to know we have a way to combat the enormous plastic problem the world has. It has its uses, but getting rid of it has always been the hard part.
Comment icon #14 Posted by jesspy on 28 April, 2018, 9:54
I have read about recycled plastic being used in roads. Lasts longer and is easier on tyres. Plus less repair from pot holes etc. 

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