British researchers of the world have declared that have created a global problem with recycling plastic is that every year more and more pollute the planet.
Researchers of the United States and Britain have accidentally engineered an enzyme that can digest plastics.
The enzyme can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a kind of strong plastic used in plastic bottles around the world. PET can last hundreds of years in a natural environment. The new enzyme indicates a way to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.
The scientists reportedly used a super-powerful X-ray, about 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, to make an ultra-high-resolution 3D model of the Japanese enzyme called PETase.
"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. These differences indicated that PETase may have evolved in a PET-containing environment to enable the enzyme to degrade PET.
Once they understood its structure, the team noted that they could improve the performance of PETase by adjusting a few residues on its surface. To test their theory they then mutated the PETease to make it look even more like a cutinase.
The team is now working to see if it can be improved to work faster and, in the long term, become a tool used to recycle PET plastic on an industrial scale by reducing it back to its building blocks so it can be reused.
Not that PETase is a slouch - as PET by itself takes centuries to naturally break down, and the enzyme enables the bacteria to shorten that to just a matter of days.
Some companies that rely on PET have committed to do more.
Increasing the volume of plastic that is recycled could significantly cut the amount that finds its way into the sea, which now stands at about a truck load every single minute worldwide.
The enzyme, described as a "mutant" was born from the plastic landfills of Japan, where it was discovered.
The team's goal is to use their findings to continue to improve the new enzymes to break down these man-made plastics, but in a fraction of the time.
He also added, "We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these "wonder-materials", must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions".
The researchers found that the PETase mutant was better than the natural PETase in degrading PET.
The work reported in PNAS was enabled by funding from NREL's Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program, the University of Portsmouth, and the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.