Plastic-eating enzyme accidentally created by scientists could help solve pollution crisis
Scientists have created a substance capable of “eating” plastic that could help tackle the world’s pollution problem.
The substance is based on an enzyme – a “biological catalyst” – first produced by bacteria living in a Japanese recycling centre that researchers suggested had evolved it in order to eat plastic.
Dubbed PETase for its ability to break down the PET plastic used to make drinks bottles, the enzyme accelerated a degradation process that would normally take hundreds of years.
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Fine-tuning this naturally produced enzyme allowed a research team to produce something capable of digesting plastic more effectively than anything found in nature.
By breaking down plastic into manageable chunks, the scientists suggest their new substances could help recycle millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.
Plastic is notoriously resistant to natural degradation, and the discovery of the Japanese plastic-eating bacteria in 2016 was heralded by experts and commentators alike as a potential natural solution to plastic pollution.
While attempting to verify these claims, University of Portsmouth biologist Professor John McGeehan and his colleagues accidentally created a super-powered version of the plastic-eating enzyme.