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article imageCocktail of plastic munching chemicals created

By Tim Sandle     Oct 1, 2020 in Environment
A research group, who earlier developed a plastic-destroying enzyme, have developed a cocktail-version, a series of chemicals that can digest plastics six-times faster than the previous invention. The aim is to target plastic waste.
Plastic pollution continues to be major problem and present a major challenge for global society. Taking Central America, Digital Journal's Karen Graham recently reported that "A massive ‘tsunami’ of plastic waste covers Honduras beaches", where the once envied beaches of Omoa are now blighted by piles of garbage.
While some solutions to the plastic waste problem are orientated towards encouraging consumers and fining companies, in order to move away from plastics where possible and to avoid discarding waste (especially where it can enter the rivers and hence the wider ecosystem), other innovations are directed at tackling the actual waste.
This is where the concept of a plastic-destroying enzyme comes in. Developed by the University of Portsmouth, the first iteration was called PETase. This is an esterase class of enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of polyethylene terephthalate. The breakdown product provides new opportunities for biobased plastics recycling.
The latest development uses two enzymes to create a more potent plastic tackling cocktail. The second enzyme, recovered from a soil dwelling bacterium (named Ideonella sakaiensis), has been combined at the university with PETase.Together the two enzymes accelerate the breakdown of waste plastics. The new enzyme is called MHETase.
Key to the development was using lasers to reveal the 3D structure of the MHETase enzyme. This provided the researchers with the molecular blueprint to begin engineering a faster enzyme system, based on synthetic forms of the chemicals.
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with the research paper titled "Characterization and engineering of a two-enzyme system for plastics depolymerization."
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