Pollution: researchers discover by chance a plastic-eating enzyme

DETERIORATION. This discovery could solve a major problem of pollution of ocean s. American and British researchers accidentally devised an enzyme capable of destroying the plastic . This study published Monday, April 16, 2018, was conducted by teams from the University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (NREL) ]. Each year, more than eight million tons of plastics end up in the oceans of the planet . Clusters of plastics that worry about its impact on the health of future generations and the environment

The majority of these plastics can last for hundreds of years in the oceans. Scientists are therefore looking for a way to better eliminate them. The researchers focused their efforts on a bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago, Ideonella sakaiensis. The latter feeds only on one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in many plastic bottles. Japanese researchers believe that this bacterium has evolved quite recently in a recycling center, because plastics were invented only in the 1940s.

Towards a solution for the elimination of plastics?

The objective of the US-UK team was to understand the functioning of one of its enzymes called PETase, by discovering its structure. " But they were a step further by accidentally designing an enzyme that is even more effective at breaking down PET plastics ," according to findings released Monday in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Science ( PNAS ). " Luck often plays an important role in basic scientific research and our discovery is no exception began John McGeehan, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth. Although the advance is modest, this unexpected discovery suggests that there is room for further improvement of these enzymes, to bring us even closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics ".

Scientists are now busy improving their performance in hopes of eventually being able to use it in an industrial process of destroying plastics.

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