first_imgLet us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on target Scientists accidentally engineered an enzyme that easily digests some of the most commonly polluting plastics.Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) stumbled upon a biological catalyst that’s better at degrading polyethylene terephthalate (PET) than the one evolved in nature.This discovery, led by Portsmouth professor John McGeehan and NREL’s Gregg Beckham, could provide a solution for the millions of tons of plastic bottles cluttering the environment and threatening wildlife.Experts estimate that by 2050, there will be as much plastic waste in the ocean (by mass) as there are fish.“Few could have predicted that since plastics became popular in the 1960s, huge plastic waste patches would be found floating in oceans, or washed up on once-pristine beaches all over the world,” according to McGeehan, director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.As anyone who brings reusable canvas bags to the grocery store or switched to cloth diapers knows, people are making a concerted effort to cut back on plastics. But paper straws and bamboo toothbrushes aren’t enough.“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,” McGeehan said.NREL’s Bryon Donohoe and Nic Rorrer test how effectively the PETase enzyme digests plastic (via Dennis Schroeder/NREL)While studying another enzyme that digests PET, the team inadvertently created something even better, which may one day be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.“It’s well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET and potentially other substrates like PEF, PLA, and PBS back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled.”The big breakthrough came while researchers were examining the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, uncovered in the soil of a Japanese PET bottle recycling plant.They found that their PETase mutant was better than the wild-type PETase in degrading polyethylene terephthalate, patented as a plastic in the 1940s. It can also eat polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a bio-based substitute being hailed as a replacement for glass beer bottles.“We were thrilled to learn that PETase works even better on PEF than on PET,” Beckham said in a statement. “It is literally drilling holes through the PEF sample.”“Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics,” McGeehan added.The full study will be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.center_img Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend last_img

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