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Scientists in the UK and the US accidentally created an enzyme that can help in the fight against plastic pollution.
This weekend people around the world celebrate Earth Day. The theme of global celebration this year – the pollution of the planet with plastic. The problem is that the plastic nature, in fact, does not decompose and can pollute the nature for centuries. But perhaps a solution is found.
Scientists created an enzyme capable of digesting a polyethylene terephthalate or PET form of plastic, patented in the 1940-ies and is currently used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles. PET plastic can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and are currently contaminating large areas of land and sea throughout the world.
Researchers from the British University of Portsmouth and the National renewable energy laboratory U.S. Department of energy made this discovery by studying the structure of the natural enzyme (molecules that accelerate the chemical reactions in living organisms) that evolved into a recycling center in Japan. In 2016, Japanese scientists found a new species of bacteria Ideonella sakaiensis with a specialized enzyme, which naturally destroys PAT.
Now an international team of researchers that studies the structure of the enzyme, has created its upgraded version that is even more effective in absorbing plastic. This researchers reported in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy of Sciences(USA).
Scientists used a technique called x-ray crystallography to study the structure of the enzyme and identification of its ability to destroy the plastics. Finding that this enzyme helps the bacteria to destroy or digest the plastic PET, the researchers decided "to configure" its structure, genetically modified the enzyme by adding some amino acids.
Subsequent tests showed that some changes caused the enzyme to work better. In the end, the original version and mutated version unable to destroy as a PET, and the new bio-plastic called PEF.
Currently, researchers are working to improve the enzyme to see whether he is able to destroy PET-plastics on an industrial scale. This discovery could be truly revolutionary. Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in larger quantities by microorganisms. However, the study of enzymes as a potential solution to the problem of pollution is still at an early stage.