Bac­te­ria po­ten­tial plas­tic so­lu­tion

China Daily - - WORLD -

TAMPA, Florida — Sci­en­tists in the US and Britain have ac­ci­den­tally en­gi­neered an en­zyme which can di­gest some of the most com­monly pol­lut­ing plas­tics, pro­vid­ing a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion to one of the world’s big­gest en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

More than 8 mil­lion tons of plas­tic are dumped into the world’s oceans each year, say re­searchers, and con­cern is mount­ing over the petroleum-de­rived prod­uct’s toxic legacy on the en­vi­ron­ment.

De­spite re­cy­cling ef­forts, most plas­tic can per­sist for hun­dreds of years in the en­vi­ron­ment, so re­searchers are search­ing for bet­ter ways to elim­i­nate it.

Sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­sity of Portsmouth and the US En­ergy Depart­ment’s Na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Lab­o­ra­tory de­cided to fo­cus on a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring bac­terium dis­cov­ered in Japan a few years ago.

Ja­panese re­searchers be­lieve the bac­terium evolved fairly re­cently in a waste re­cy­cling cen­ter, since plas­tics were not in­vented un­til the 1940s.

Known as Ideonella sakaien­sis, it ap­pears to feed ex­clu­sively on a type of plas­tic known as poly­eth­yl­ene tereph­tha­late (known as PET), used widely in plas­tic bot­tles.

The re­searchers’ goal was to un­der­stand how one of its en­zymes — called PETase — worked, by fig­ur­ing out its struc­ture.

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