Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic And This Could Save The World

The enzyme which eats plastic can probably be the solution to our plastic cataclysm.

In the dirt at a Japanese plastics recycling plant, researchers found a microbe which had evolved to eat the plastic bottles dominating its environment.

The discovery occurred in 2016, and scientists have now gone further. While examining how the “Japanese bug” breaks down plastic, they have accidentally created a mutant enzyme which outperforms the natural one. Could it offer a vital solution to the enormous plastic problem of society?

The structural biologist John McGeehan from the University of Portsmouth in the UK says:

“Serendipity usually plays an important role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception. This unanticipated discovery also suggests that there is space for further improvement of these enzymes, leading us closer to some recycling solutions for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics.”

The team of McGeehan, which includes researchers at the Us Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), stumbled onto their mutant tweak while they were investing in the crystal structure of PETase. PETase is the enzyme which helps the Japanese microbe, named Ideonella sakaiensis, to break down PET plastics (aka polyethylene terephthalate).

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