Scientists have designed an enzyme that breaks down the most common plastic waste in our lives, making it possible to solve one of the world's biggest environmental problems. The discovery addresses the recycling of millions of tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles or the decomposition of PET waste that has been left in the environment for hundreds of years.
Professor John McGeehan and his colleagues inadvertently designed an enzyme that works better than the enzymes used to degrade plastic waste in nature.
Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth and Dr. Gregg Beckham of the US Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) studied the crystal structure of the enzyme (PETase) recently discovered to decompose PET and understand it through 3D information. how to work. During the course of the study, they inadvertently designed an enzyme that performed better than enzymes that evolved to degrade plastics in nature.
Now, researchers are working to further improve this enzyme to make it sustainable for plastic decomposition in factories. They have made breakthroughs in the study of the structure of natural enzymes and believe that the enzyme is cultivated at a waste recycling center in Japan, which allows bacteria to degrade plastic as a food source.
In the 1940s, PET plastics did not appear in nature for a long time, so the research team is committed to identifying enzyme development and improving it.
The ultimate goal of the study was simply to determine the structure of the enzyme, but did not want them to go further and unexpectedly designed an enzyme that could better decompose PET plastics.
McGeehan said: "In basic scientific research, contingency often plays an important role, so our accidental discovery is normal."
“Although the improvement is small, this accidental finding suggests that there is more room to improve these enzymes, giving us more confidence in finding solutions to recycle these piles of discarded plastic waste.”