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Researchers in the us and the uk have developed by chance an enzyme capable of destroy plastic, which could contribute to solving the global problem linked to this type of pollution, according to a study published Monday.
More than eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans of the planet each year, causing growing concerns on the toxicity of this derivative of oil, and its impact on the health of future generations and the environment.
In spite of recycling efforts, the vast majority of these plastics can last for hundreds of years. The scientists are seeking a better way to eliminate them.
Scientists from the british university of Portsmouth and the national renewable energy laboratory of the u.s. department of Energy have focused their efforts on a bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago: the Ideonella sakaiensis.
It feeds only one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (pet) (PET), which enters into the composition of very many plastic bottles.
The japanese researchers think that this bacterium has evolved rather recently in a centre of recycling, since plastics were first invented in the 1940’s.
The objective of the team is british-american was to understand the functioning of one of its enzymes called PETase, by discovering its structure.
“But they were a bit further into designing by accident, an enzyme that is even more effective to disaggregate the plastics PET,” according to the findings published Monday in the proceedings of the american Academy of sciences (PNAS).
Scientists from the university of South Florida and the university of brazil Campinas also participated in the experiments which have led to the mutation by chance an enzyme to be much more effective than the PETase natural.
Scientists are now enable to improve performance in the hope of being able to one day use in an industrial process of destruction of the plastics.
“The chance often plays an important role in basic scientific research and our discovery is no exception,” began John McGeehan, professor in the school of biological sciences at Portsmouth.
“Although the progress is small, this unexpected finding suggests that there is a margin to further improve these enzymes, to bring us closer yet to a solution for recycling the mountain in constant growth of plastic waste”, he continued.