Plastic has been a great boon for humanity and an immense curse for the planet. Getting rid of plastic waste is still one of the largest threats to nature. However, apart from just clearing them, scientists have managed to create plastic-eating enzymes.
The Nature Of The Plastic Eating Enzymes
To be precise, it is not a single enzyme, but a measured mixture of several plastic-eating enzymes. The mixture can make plastic degrade in days. The material’s natural biodegradable cycle takes several centuries. The cocktail includes MHETase and PETase. These enzymes are made by a bacteria known as Ideonella Sakaiensis. The bacteria eat PET plastic, the type that plastic bottles are usually made of.
Plymouth University’s Professor John McGeehan stated the information to the PA news agency. He said that presently the building blocks are made from fossil fuels like gas and oil. This is very unsustainable. However, if enzymes are added to plastic waste, the breakdown can begin in just a few days.
In 2018, John McGeehan had accidentally created the first of the plastic-eating enzymes. However, this original did not hasten the process to make it feasible. His team’s researchers then tried to find out ways to reduce the time taken. The cocktail has been the answer.
A Potentially World-Saving Cocktail
McGeehan explains that the plastic surface is attacked by the PETase. The MHETase then breaks the plastic down further. So it was natural to try the two together, taking inspiration from the natural process. The first experiments showed an increase in their efficacy when used together. So the next step was to link them physically.
He added that a lot of work went into the discovery from Europe and America. But the final product was worth it. The latest chimeric enzyme is three times as fast when the enzymes are used separately and naturally. Further improvements are only a matter of time now.
The plastic-eating enzymes can also degrade polyethylene furoate or PEF, which beer bottles are usually made of. However, these two types are the only ones that the enzyme can degrade currently. But McGeehan and his team are still trying out mixtures with more enzymes to expand the range.