Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

Indigenous peoples: Fighting discrimination

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

From Turkey to Iran: (re)inventing kebab

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara: ‘Dinosaurs were the last great champions’

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Alan Turing's nephew: ‘A Shakespearean tragedy surrounded his life’

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Zimbabwe: Chamisa's lawyers contest election results in court

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

New US sanctions on Iran: Trump ups pressure after exiting nuclear deal

Read more

IN THE PRESS

‘Space Farce’? Alternative logos for new US military branch flood social media

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Zambia accused of illegal handover of Zimbabwean opposition figure

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

#MyCameraIsMyWeapon campaign takes on Iran's mandatory hijab law

Read more

Americas

Plastic-eating enzyme sparks hope in fight against pollution

© Anwar Amro, AFP | In this file photo taken on January 14, 2017, plastic bottles litter the Ghadir River bed as it pours into the Mediterranean Sea near Beirut's International Airport.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-04-22

Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could help in the future fight against pollution.

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET - a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme thought to have evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan.

Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers decided to “tweak” its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme’s actions - allowing its plastic-eating abilities to work faster.

“We’ve made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already,” McGeehan told Reuters in an interview. “That’s really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimise the enzyme even further.”

The team, whose finding was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, is now working on improving the enzyme further to see if they can make it capable of breaking down PET plastics on an industrial scale.

“It’s well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other (plastics), back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled,” McGeehan said.

‘Strong potential’

Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said it was exciting, but they cautioned that the enzyme’s development as a potential solution for pollution was still at an early stage.

“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” said Oliver Jones, a expert in analytical chemistry at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. “There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics.”

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work “should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further”.

“All told, this advance brings the goal of sustainably recyclable polymers significantly closer,” he added.

(REUTERS)

Date created : 2018-04-22

  • ENVIRONMENT

    World carbon emissions set to reach new record high

    Read more

  • HEALTH

    Pollution linked to nine million deaths a year worldwide

    Read more

  • ENVIRONMENT

    Billions of tons of waste creating a 'plastic planet', scientists warn

    Read more

COMMENT(S)