Scientists accidentally create a plastic-eating enzyme

American and British scientists accidentally devised an enzyme that could destroy plastic, which could help solve the global problem of this type of pollution, according to a study released on Monday.

More than eight million tons of plastics end up in the world's oceans every year, raising concerns about the toxicity of this petroleum derivative and its impact on the health of future generations and the environment.

Despite efforts to recycling, the vast majority of these plastics can last for hundreds of years. Scientists are looking for a better way to eliminate them

Scientists at the Portsmouth University of the United Kingdom and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy have focused their efforts on a bacterium discovered in Japan a few days ago. years: Ideonella sakaiensis.

It feeds only on one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in many plastic bottles.

Japanese researchers believe that bacterium has evolved quite recently in a recycling center, because plastics were invented only in the 1940s.

The goal of the US-UK team was to understand the functioning of one of its enzymes called PETase, discovering its structure

"But they went a step further by accidentally designing an enzyme that is even more effective at breaking down the s PET plastics, "according to the findings published Monday in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Scientists from the University of South Florida and the Brazilian University Campinas also participated in the experiments which led to the mutation by chance of a much more efficient enzyme than natural PETase.

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

"Luck is often an important part of basic scientific research and our discovery is no exception," said John McGeehan, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in Portsmouth.

"Although the advance is modest, this unexpected discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, to bring us even closer to a recycling solution. growing mountain of discarded plastics, "he continued.