Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

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Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Tue Apr 17, 2018 12:56 pm

Known as Ideonella sakaiensis, it appears to feed exclusively on a type of plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used widely in plastic bottles.

TAMPA, UNITED STATES: Researchers in the US and Britain have accidentally engineered an enzyme which eats plastic and may eventually help solve the growing problem of plastic pollution, a study said Monday.

More than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world's oceans every year, and concern is mounting over this petroleum-derived product's toxic legacy on human health and the environment.

Despite recycling efforts, most plastic can persist for hundreds of years in the environment, so researchers are searching for better ways to eliminate it.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the US Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory decided to focus on a naturally occurring bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago.

Japanese researchers believe the bacterium evolved fairly recently in a waste recycling center, since plastics were not invented until the 1940s.

Known as Ideonella sakaiensis, it appears to feed exclusively on a type of plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used widely in plastic bottles.

A useful mutation


The researchers' goal was to understand how one of its enzymes -- called PETase -- worked, by figuring out its structure.

"But they ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics," said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

Using a super-powerful X-ray, 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, they were able to make an ultra-high-resolution three-dimensional model of the enzyme.

Scientists from the University of South Florida and the University of Campinas in Brazil did computer modeling which showed PETase looked similar to another enzyme, cutinase, found in fungus and bacteria.

One area of the PETase was a bit different, though, and researchers hypothesized that this was the part that allowed it to degrade man-made plastic.

So they mutated the PETase active site to make it more like cutinase, and unexpectedly found that this mutant enzyme was even better than the natural PETase at breaking down PET.

Researchers say they are now working on further improvements to the enzyme, with the hope of eventually scaling it up for industrial use in breaking down plastics.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research, and our discovery here is no exception," said study author John McGeehan, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.

"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."

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/researchers-accidentally-engineer-plastic-eating-enzyme-1838483
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Seva Lamberdar

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Re: Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

Post by southindian on Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:39 pm

If true, this is Nobel-prize worthy... science, environment whatever works
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Re: Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

Post by Vakavaka Pakapaka on Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:46 pm

How selective is PETase? What if it affects other things in the environment? How about the degradation products - are they safe for the environment? Any toxicological studies?.......

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Re: Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

Post by Idéfix on Tue Apr 17, 2018 5:45 pm

Vakavaka Pakapaka wrote:How selective is PETase? What if it affects other things in the environment? How about the degradation products - are they safe for the environment? Any toxicological studies?.......
All good questions. This seems like a small step but it has huge potential. For this to actually solve the problem of plastic pollution on a global scale, they need to figure out how to get an animal to produce this enzyme and thrive on plastic in the wild. The ethical questions involved in doing that are really difficult as well. This all is easier said than done using current technology, but perhaps it will be done in the decades to come. In the meanwhile, I hope this does not result in people thinking plastic pollution is no longer a problem and they don't need to bother with recycling.
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Re: Plastic-Eating Enzyme Is Accidentally Developed, Could Help Fight Pollution

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Wed Apr 18, 2018 8:13 am

Idéfix wrote:
Vakavaka Pakapaka wrote:How selective is PETase? What if it affects other things in the environment? How about the degradation products - are they safe for the environment? Any toxicological studies?.......
All good questions. This seems like a small step but it has huge potential. For this to actually solve the problem of plastic pollution on a global scale, they need to figure out how to get an animal to produce this enzyme and thrive on plastic in the wild. The ethical questions involved in doing that are really difficult as well. This all is easier said than done using current technology, but perhaps it will be done in the decades to come. In the meanwhile, I hope this does not result in people thinking plastic pollution is no longer a problem and they don't need to bother with recycling.
Any progress in this, no matter how small, is welcome.
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