Plastic pollution has become a prevailing environmental problem around the world. It has become a perennial problem and scientists have been on a mission to look for novel solutions to stop the surge of plastic pollution. The discovery of a modified enzyme by researchers from Portsmouth University offers new hope to end the scourge of plastic pollution. This modified enzyme can break down plastics in just a few days.
The new modified enzyme called as PETase is known to be a powerful “eater” of PET, the strong plastic commonly used in bottles. It is estimated that PET takes hundreds of years to degrade in nature.
Observers say this new enzyme revolutionizes the recycling process, allowing plastics to be re-used more effectively.
PETase was first detected in the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis, which used the enzyme to munch on plastic in the soil of a PET bottle-recycling facility in Japan.
Meet The Mutant Enzyme That Devours Plastic
Curious minds can do wonders just like in the case of researchers from Portsmouth University who took a closer look at the crystal structure of a recently discovered enzyme called PETase. The outcome of their prying minds was a more fantastic discovery as they introduced a mutation to PETase.
The result was a new type of enzyme that digests plastic more efficiently than the original. This new kind of PETase is even better at degrading PET.
John McGeehan, a professor of structural biology at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., said, “Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research, and our discovery here is no exception.”
The Severity of Plastic Pollution
According to scientists from the University of Georgia, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Sea Education Association, humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s. One might wonder where are they now after a span of more than 70 years? The powerhouse scientists found answers to this query.
The team calculated that most of the plastic now resides in landfills or the natural environment, around 6.3 billion tons of waste. Of that waste total, only 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
Talking about the future, the scientists made some predictions as well. If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. Twelve billion metric tons is about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.