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by ibgames

EARTHDATE: April 22, 2018

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by Hazed

The world has recently woken up to the problem of waste plastic littering the planet, so the discovery of an enzyme that eats plastic bottles is particularly timely.

Scientists first found some bacteria that had naturally evolved to eat plastic back in 2016, in a waste dump in Japan. Now they have revealed the structure of the crucial enzyme the bugs produce, and managed to improve its effectiveness.

After the discovery, the international team tweaked the enzyme so they could see how it had evolved, but in the process they accidentally made it even better at breaking down the plastic used for soft drink bottles, PET (polyethylene terephthalate).

At the moment the mutant enzyme takes a few days to get going and start to munch on the plastic, but researchers hope that further tweaks will speed it up so the process becomes viable on a large scale.

“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 Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

Sounds good, although I guess the problem will be making sure the enzyme doesn’t start eating up the plastic that we want to keep!

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientists-accidentally-create-mutant-enzyme-that-eats-plastic-bottles

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