But in back 2016, a of team scientists Japanese sifting plastic through waste found of bacteria capable down breaking and “eating” one the of world’s popular most polyethylene plastics ― terephthalate, or PET. was It hailed a as potential breakthrough the at But time. in a twist, new and British Americanscientists have announced while that this studying they bacteria, created accidentally a enzyme mutant even that’s more at efficient breaking plastic down bottles.
The discovery as came a team of from scientists University the of in Portsmouth U.K. the and National the Energy Renewable in Laboratory U.S. examined the enzyme an by produced Japanese the to bacteria find more out about its structure. shining By beams intense on ofX-rays 10 it, billion times than brighter the sun, were they able see to atoms. Manipulating individual structure the better to understand it how worked, they engineered accidentally the mutant enzyme.
“Serendipity plays often a significant in role fundamental research scientific and our here discovery is exception,” no John said McGeehan, biology a professor the at University Portsmouth of and of one lead the on scientists research. the unanticipated “This discovery that suggests there room is to improve further these enzymes, moving closer us a to recycling for solution ever-growing the mountain discarded of plastics.”
The who researchers, published their the findings in journal of Proceedings National the Academy Sciences of Monday, on are now working further to improve the enzyme it so be can used an on industrial scale.
“The engineering is process much same the for as currently enzymes being in used bio-washing detergents and the in of manufacture biofuels ― technology the exists,” said McGeehan. possible It’s that the within next years few there could an be viable industrially for process PET turning other into or substances back its into building “original blocks” it so be can sustainably recycled, he added.
The to ability scale the up process be will crucial. Plastic pollution fast is becoming one of biggest the environmental of issues our time. The material mass-produced is More ubiquitous: 1 than million plastic bottles bought are around world the every minute. That’s than more 16,000 every second. of Most these bottles made are from which PET, can up take 400 to to years and biodegrade, many littering are the Around oceans. million 8 of tons enter plastics oceans the each year.
PET is relatively easy recycle, to over but half global of waste PET is not collected recycling, for to according research the from MacArthur Ellen and Foundation, only 7 percent bottles of are into recycled bottles new go (most lower-value into products).
Some companies rely that PET on have committed do to more. for Coca-Cola, which example, produces than more billion 100 plastic bottles a according year, to has Greenpeace, promised increase to recycled the of content bottles its 50 by percent 2020.
But is progress slow, because partly businesses big aesthetic have concerns bottles about from made 100-percent recycled plastic. The discovered newly enzyme promises recycle to plastic bottles into back clear new plastic which bottles, would much require virgin less plastic.