Scientists Develop Plastic-Eating Enzyme

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed an enzyme by sheer accident while examining the structure of a natural enzyme found in a waste recycling center in Japan.

The enzyme, Ideonella Sakaiensis 201-F6, degrades polyethylene terephthalate, a substance that was patented as a plastic in the 1940s and is currently used to produce plastic bottles. This is an exciting and promising discovery, as plastic is currently expected to be as common in oceans as fish by the year 2050. Discoveries like this could curb that and greatly reduce the amount of garbage in oceans and landfills around the world.

The original aim of the study was to research the structure of the enzyme that had been found in Japan. “We hoped to determine its structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics,” said lead researcher Gregg Beckham.

According to the University of Portsmouth, this remarkable enzyme “could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles, made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment.”

“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,” said Portsmouth’s Instituted of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Director John McGeehan. “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.”

Lead author Harris Austin, jointly funded by the University of Portsmouth and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) stated that this was “just the beginning” for research on this enzyme and its potential. “I am delighted to be part of an international team that is tackling one of the biggest problems facing our planet.”

The enzyme is capable of breaking down plastics in only two days. However, it currently does not work on a larger scale. Going forward, Harris and his team of researchers hope to change that and are working to improve the enzyme, with the goal of allowing it to be used industrially to break down large amounts of plastic in a fraction of the time.

 

Did you miss this?

Other Popular Stories

  • Oil producers agree to cut output to boost prices as global supply remains higher than demand
  • Pembina set for biggest expansion in its history
  • Canada-France space agencies test stratosphere balloon in Ontario
  • Manufacturing sector faced difficult conditions in September: survey
  • Continued strength in manufacturing in November: RBC
  • Oil leads Canada's GDP growth while OPEC production cuts have prices surging
  • Elon Musk's Hyperloop vision racing ahead of naysayers and regulators — Boring Company receives permission to tunnel 10 miles; early tests of tube successful
  • Ontario to improve business "climate" for automotive industry; special focus on autonomous vehicle development
  • Government urges aerospace innovation, adoption of new technologies
  • Canada's small businesses encouraged to invest for success
  • Researchers claim micro-fluidics breakthrough with liquid metal pump
  • Ford investment in Oakville gets auto industry "on the move again"
  • Elon Musk, the master of disruptive technology companies: his life, successes — and failures
  • Interstellar Mission to Commemorate 100th Anniversary of Moon Landing
  • Modest business growth forecast as manufacturing slows in June
  • Small business tax rate cut to 3.5 percent will only partially mitigate impact of minimum wage increases, both set for January 1 in Ontario
  • BC sees 100,000 LNG jobs, $1 trillion in revenues
  • 99.99% of Salt Removed from Sea Water with Innovative Nano-Filter — Important with Changing Global Weather
  • Mobile Office Pod Engineered in Nissan Van for Remote Workers
  • Pembina to build $350 million diluent hub
Scroll to Top