United Kingdom pledges new funding to battle plastic pollution

Researchers in the USA and Britain have accidentally engineered an enzyme which eats plastic and may eventually help solve the growing problem of plastic pollution, a study said Monday.

Scientists have engineered a biological enzyme which can rapidly digest some of the most common forms of polluting plastics that persist for hundreds of years in the environment.

The team had been looking originally at another enzyme called PETease which had evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan.

Two scientists have accidentally stumbled upon an organic enzyme that can eat some of our worst polluting plastics, providing a possible solution to what is arguably one of the world's biggest environmental problems.

The team will now work to improve the enzyme even further with Professor McGeehan confident that we could finally have a viable recycling solution for these plastics within just a few years.

The team is now working to see if it can be improved to work faster and, in the long term, become a tool used to recycle PET plastic on an industrial scale by reducing it back to its building blocks so it can be reused.

The researchers worked with scientists at Diamond Light Source (DLS) in the United Kingdom, deploying a synchrotron that uses intense beams of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun to act as a microscope powerful enough to see individual atoms.

X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun are generated at the facility by accelerating electrons around a circular tunnel.

Using the PETase blueprint provided by the Diamond Light Sources, the scientists re-engineered an active region of the molecule.

So they mutated the PETase active site to make it more like cutinase, and unexpectedly found that this mutant enzyme was even better than the natural PETase at breaking down PET.

The findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The government also confirmed yesterday that developing countries that have signed up to the alliance will also be eligible to bid for partnership support to improve waste management systems, as well as implement other initiatives to stop plastic waste from reaching oceans.

The cash will be used for grants, innovation challenges and events to raise the profile of the plastic problem and fund the development of alternative materials and new, zero-waste manufacturing processes.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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