No matter how hard we try to avoid using plastic, it pops out of somewhere right in front of us. Sometimes even the bamboo products that we buy come with plastic packages, so what's the point?
If we cannot run away from it then it might be best to fully get rid of it. And a group of scientists from the University of Portsmouth, UK, and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), US are here to help. Thanks to the collaboration from both sides of the Atlantic, they've created a "super-enzyme" that deconstructs plastic waste six times faster.
The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Basically, they took this already existing enzyme called PETase within Ideonella sakaiensis bacteria and combined it with a second enzyme, MHETase. The specific bacteria are already known to feed off the plastic, so it turns out to be a genius idea to back its enzyme up with the second enzyme and increase the speed of activity by further three times.
“When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,“ said Prof John McGeehan. “This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.”
Two years ago, Prof John McGeehan and Gregg Beckham accidentally engineered the PETase enzyme in another research and boosted its speed at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. And clearly, they wanted to add on that today.
“Our first experiments showed that they did indeed work better together, so we decided to try to physically link them, like two Pac-men joined by a piece of string," McGeehan added.
There are already many plastic-digesting creatures anyway, but it seems that improvements fasten the process of degrading for most cases. Let's see if somehow we will be able to reduce using plastic by new developments taking place every day.