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Current Affairs

Plastic eating enzyme

Date: 01 October 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue
Scientists have created a new "super enzyme" that can break down plastic up to six times faster than their previous enzyme.

 

Background

A team of researchers that previously re-engineered a plastic-eating enzyme named PETase have now combined it with a second enzyme to speed up the process.

 

Details

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  • Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues. The volume of plastic entering the ocean could nearly triple to 29 million metric tons per year by 2040.

  • The super enzyme could have major implications for recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is the most common thermoplastic used in single-use drinks bottles, carpets, and clothing.

  • PET takes hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. PETase can break it down into its building blocks in a few days.

  • The super enzyme combines PETase and MHETase. A mixture of the two breaks down PET twice as fast as PETase on its own, while connecting the two enzymes increased the speed by a further three times.

  • Researchers were then able to engineer the new super enzyme by connecting MHETase and PETase, effectively stitching the enzymes DNA together to create one long chain.

  • Other possible solutions include the tiny waxworm, which can chomp through plastic, even polyethylene, a common and non-biodegradable plastic currently clogging up landfills and seas, thanks to its gut bacteria.

  • Mealworms, the larval stage of the mealworm beetle, could also contribute. Around 3,000-4,000 mealworms can break down one Styrofoam coffee cup in about a week thanks to the bacteria living in their gut.