PETase: Plastic Degrading Enzyme
PET, the strong plastic commonly used in bottles, takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment. Scientists at the University of Portsmouth and from the US Department of Energy created the plastic-digesting protein PETase, accidentally while investigating its natural counterpart. The teams were investigating the structure of a naturally occurring bacteria that breaks down PET, when they accidentally engineered the new more efficient enzyme.The enzyme could provide a "recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics", according to lead scientist Professor John McGeehan.
UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled. Bottles made from PET are used to package 70 per cent of soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral waters sold in shops and supermarkets, according to the British Plastics Federation.
Image © PA