Scientists said the so-called super-enzyme that feeds on plastic could be a leap forward in finding ways to tackle the pollution crisis.
A reinforced protein consists of two enzymes produced by a type of bacteria that thrives on plastic bottles, known as Ideonella sakaiensis.
Professor John McGeehan, director of the Center for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, said that unlike natural degradation, which can take hundreds of years, a super enzyme can convert plastic back into its original materials, or building blocks, in only a few. days.
“At the moment, we get these building blocks from fossil resources like oil and gas, which is really not sustainable. But if we can add enzymes to plastic waste, we can start breaking them down days,” he told the Palestinian Authority News Agency.
Will allow operation They are endlessly manufactured and reusedThis reduces our dependence on fossil resources. “
In 2018, Professor McGeehan and his team accidentally discovered an engineered version of a single enzyme, PETase, that was able to break down plastic in days.
For their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the professor and his team mixed PETase with the second enzyme, MHETase, and found that “the digestion of plastic bottles literally doubles.”
Professor McGeehan, one of the study’s authors, said: “This allowed us to create a super enzyme six times faster than the original PETase alone.
“That’s a big leap forward because Plastic that ends up in our oceans Today it would take hundreds of years to naturally collapse. Ultimately, through sunlight and the movement of waves, it will begin to break down into smaller and smaller pieces – and we’ll end up with microplastics – which is a serious problem for organisms that live in the environment. “
Tests showed that this super enzyme was able to break down a type of plastic used in the packaging of soft drinks and fruit juice, known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate).
Although it is said to be highly recyclable, polyethylene terephthalate remains present for hundreds of years in the environment before it decomposes. Aside from PET, the super enzyme also works on PEF (polyethylene furanoate), which is a sugar-based bioplastic used to make beer bottles. Professor McGeehan added, however, that the super enzyme was not able to break down other types of plastics.
In the next part of their studies, researchers will look at ways to further accelerate the collapse process, so that the technology can be adapted for commercial purposes.
“The faster we can make enzymes, the faster we break down plastics, the more commercially viable this is,” said Professor McGeehan.