So far, you have heard that plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental problems in the world. At every measurement, things like disposable plastic bottles are about to flood landfills and eventually spill into our oceans at an alarming rate. The Pew Charitable Trust, for example, projects that by 2040 we will be dumping about 29 million metric tons into the ocean each year, destroying ecosystems and affecting every way we rely on or interact with the ocean.
And the problem is that it only bonds because the plastic is not biodegradable, which means that once we made it, we stayed with it. This has led scientists to explore ways to change it, even using wax worms to eat things. A well-researched theoretical solution is to create an enzyme that could essentially dissolve different plastics, and a team of scientists announced this week that there is one that can eat plastic bottles six times faster than before. it was possible.
It began in 2016 when scientists discovered a bacterium in Japan that could break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most widely used plastics, polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or polyester. “Some bacteria think plastic is fantastic,” they write, noting that bacteria can break down low-quality plastic in a matter of days.
This original enzyme is called PETase, which they have already combined with another called MHETase, commonly used to break down cotton. The new “super enzyme” created by the pairing is that they report that it works six times faster. Equally promising is the fact that researchers plan to make this a viable technique for breaking down plastics on a large scale “within the next year or two.”
“When we linked the enzymes, quite unexpectedly, we got a drastic increase in activity,” said Professor John McGean of the University of Portsmouth, UK. “This is a trajectory to try to get faster enzymes that are more important from an industrial point of view. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature and then bringing it into the lab. “
However, even with the new discoveries, the researchers intend to increase the ante, as their current innovations are not commercially viable.
“It has huge potential,” McGean said. “We have several hundred in the lab that we currently keep together.”