Saturday, 21 July, 2018

Scientists engineer enzyme that can digest plastic bottles

Image underwater showing plastic wrappers GETTY STEVE DE NEEFSea creatures are dying due to carrier bags being wrapped around their internal organs
Jodi Jackson | 17 April, 2018, 20:30

Researchers from University of Portsmouth, Britain & US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made this discovery while they were examining the structure of a natural enzyme that has evolved in Japan's waste recycling center.

At the moment PET takes hundreds of years to break down in the natural environment and is a major contributor to land and sea pollution.

They began by using a synchrotron at the Diamond Light Source facility in the United Kingdom, which allows them to see individual atoms inside the structure of the enzyme by blasting them with beams of X-ray light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception, "says structural biologist John McGeehan from the University of Portsmouth in the UK".

But in the meantime, if we can get some these enzymes working on the task, safely reducing the amount of virgin PET being produced certainly couldn't hurt. saving the world, one accidental mutant lab creation at a time.

Upon inspecting the model the teams found it looked very similar to another enzyme known as a cutinase. "In fact, it turned out that we improved the enzyme, which has now become a real boon in modern science".

The battle to curb plastic pollution has received a major boost after scientists developed a way to make recycling much quicker and cheaper.

"And now that we've shown this, it's time to apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it". During this study, they unintentionally engineered an enzyme that is better still at degrading the plastic than the one that has already evolved. But instead of the mutated PETase proving more ineffective at degrading PET, the team found the opposite, that it actually performed better. But, more significantly, it can also degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF) - a bio-based substitute for PET plastics being hailed as a replacement for glass bottles. These differences indicated that PETase must have evolved in a PET-containing environment to enable the enzyme to degrade PET. "We were thrilled to learn that PETase works even better on PEF than on PET", said Beckham. "It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme".

PET is relatively easy to recycle, but over half of global PET waste is not collected for recycling, according to research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and only 7 percent of bottles are recycled into new bottles (most go into lower-value products).

They said the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, is able to "eat" polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which was patented as a plastic in the 1940s and is used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.

Now however, The Guardian is reporting that the discovery of an enzyme in a Japanese dump in 2016 has now reaped dividends enormously thanks to an accidental breakthrough made by a team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth, UK.

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