An international team of scientists has recently created a mutant enzyme which can break down plastic drink bottles. The enzyme was created by accident when the scientists at the University of Portsmouth found a bacterium hidden in the soil at a plastic recycling plant. The team found that microbe evolved to eat and degrade plastic soda bottles when they were thrown away.
According to the British Plastics Federation, the bottles made from PET can be used to make packages for 70% of soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral waters sold in shops and supermarkets. Even though the plastic bottles made from PET are considered highly recyclable and should degrade after throwing away. However, PET still persists for several years in the environment before finally degrading. The bacterium to eat plastic has evolved naturally. The scientists who discovered it are working to make it even better. The break-down process can start in few days. The bacteria used a natural enzyme called PETase to eat the PET plastic bottles and containers.
Professor John McGeehan, the researcher who discovered the enzyme said, “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock. It’s great and a real finding, What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
It will take some time before these innovations can be used easily to break down the billions of tonnes of plastic which has already been accumulated on earth. But after obtaining the proof that we can use bacteria and enzymes to help nature at breaking down the PET containing plastic bottles, it seems like we have another chance at cleaning our planet.