British Scientists Stumble Upon Improved Plastic-Eating Enzyme

A team of British scientists has established a beachhead in what can be considered to be the fight against plastic pollution – a plastic-eating enzyme that can munch away tons of plastic debris in half the time it took its predecessor.  Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal and awaiting peer review.

Plastic-Eating Enzyme – The Best Solution to Fight Against the Plastic Islands?

Based on the latest estimates, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gargantuan mass composed of plastic debris floating freely on the Pacific Ocean has grown since last year’s measurements. Whereas an island, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now three times the size of France and two times the size of Texas.

More worrying is the fact that scientists predicted that by the end of 2050 there would be as much plastic debris polluting our oceans as fish.

However, the news isn’t all that bad. A joint research team from US’ Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and UK’s University of Portsmouth have stumbled on what can be coined the super-weapon in the fight against global plastic pollution.

This Tsar bomb of biological plastic munchers is a super enzyme initially discovered in Japan a couple of years ago during a routine inspection of a waster recycling plant.

Despite the enzyme being able to take down tons of plastic, its lab-borne offspring, called the Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F16 is much more efficient in breaking down plastic masses. Gregg Beckham, the project’s lead researcher, declared that the enzyme, which was engineered by mistake during the analysis of the Japanese plastic-eating enzyme, can break down faster polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF) plastics and at half the time compared to its predecessor.

Although the discovery of this new form of plastic-eating enzyme opens new doors, the project is still far from being used on an industrial scale to clear out the 8 million metric tons of plastic that pollute our planet.

Image source: Flickr

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