Вторник, 24 Апреля, 2018

Scientists engineer plastic-eating enzyme

Theresa May at a conference PAMay has asked for Britain to help clear the plastic waste in the world's ocean
Orlando Vargas | 17 Апреля, 2018, 20:19

Prof. John McGeehan, an X-ray crystallographer at the University of Portsmouth, stands next to equipment at the Diamond Light Source, the United Kingdom national synchrotron, that he used to reveal the atomic structure of an enzyme his team has engineered to digest a common form of plastic.

The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme so it can be used to break down plastics in an industrial setting.

As a result, far fewer new bottles and other plastic items are likely to be created since it should become far more viable to recycle existing ones, according to researchers from the University of Portsmouth.

Not that PETase is a slouch - as PET by itself takes centuries to naturally break down, and the enzyme enables the bacteria to shorten that to just a matter of days.

Ideonella sakaiensis uses the plastic as its major energy source. PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating bugs might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up. During testing, the team unexpectedly improved the enzymes plastic-digesting abilities.

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.

But what if the researchers could engineer the enzyme to work a hundred times or a thousand times better? These differences indicated that PETase may have evolved in a PET-containing environment to enable the enzyme to degrade PET.

"We were absolutely stunned when we did that experiment because it actually works better on PEF than PET", Prof McGeehan told BBC News. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

Millions of tons of PET bottles are made each year and many of them are tossed aside as litter.

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Yet big challenges lie ahead in turning an ingenious discovery into a real-world application.

One man's trash is this enzyme's lunch. But this is an example of accelerated science. UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, also recently confirmed plans to launch a public tax consultation on single-use plastics. Enzymes are a form of protein that act as catalysts in biochemical reactions.

Our plastic pollution crisis is only getting worse, but scientists may soon have a valuable new tool to chip away at the problem.

Polyesters, industrially produced from petroleum, are widely used in plastic bottles and clothing.

But the process is costly and the quality of plastic deteriorates considerably each time it is recycled.

PETase reverses the manufacturing process, reducing polyesters to their building blocks, ready to be used again.

Here's to hoping for a fully recyclable plastic future.

"What we really need are system changes to reduce the volume of throwaway plastic packaging and make sure plastic drinks bottles are collected and separated effectively", said Edge.

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