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Laboratory discovery involving “superenzyme” may help fight plastic waste: study


Plastic waste is a vast and growing problem around the world. Now, the researchers say they are getting closer to a potentially revolutionary solution that could be commercially available in a year or two, reports the Guardian. Scientists have designed a “superenzyme” that breaks down plastic six times faster than a previous iteration. The breakthrough came when they combined a previously discovered enzyme (PETase) with a second one (MHETase), explains a release from the UK̵

7;s University of Portsmouth. “Our first experiments showed that they really worked better together, so we decided to try to physically connect them, like two Pac-Men joined by a piece of string,” says researcher John McGeehan. The result accelerated the process faster than expected, according to the new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,” says McGeehan, for the Guardian. The superenzyme degrades polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the main component of disposable bottles and the like, according to CNN. The speed at which it works remains too slow to be commercially viable, but researchers think it has the potential to change quickly, especially if they partner with companies like Carbios of France, which has discovered an enzyme that eats plastic of its own, but one that needs of high temperatures. “If we can create better, faster enzymes by linking them together and supplying them to companies like Carbios, and we work in partnership, we could start doing that within the next year or two,” says McGeehan, for the Guardian. Another combination of enzymes with PETase could improve the recycling of garments made from fabrics such as polyester. (Read more plastic stories.)

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