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Scientists test plastic-eating enzyme in bid to fight pollution

It is a world first in an effort to find a solution for the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced every year.

An international team of scientists has engineered an enzyme that eats plastic.

It is a world first in an effort to find a solution for the 300m tonnes of plastic produced every year.

A bacteria discovered recently in a Japanese recycling plant feeds on the world's most common plastic known as PET. 

The scientists wanted to study how it worked, but accidentally sped it up.

"We actually thought we were making the enzyme slower by changing a few amino acids but actually we've made it faster," said Professor John McGeehan, X-Ray crystallographer at the University of Portsmouth.

"We've made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already. That's really exciting because that means that there's potential to optimise the enzyme even further."

Long way to go

The science has a long way to go, though. The enzyme can only digest PET plastic and needs to be scaled up in a commercially viable way.

"Basically, we can just make gallons of powered enzyme and then pour it into a vat of plastic," said McGeehan.

"This is what we're aiming to do. So just in the same way that washing power detergents were developed and made more stable, being able to work at high temperature or low temperatures, we're going to do the same with this enzyme and hopefully create something that we can use on an industrial scale."

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans. If this trend continues, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

It's an all-consuming problem that scientists hope enzymes could help eat up.


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