PET eating enzyme could help fight plastic pollution

Plastic pollution keeps getting worse, and if we want to clean it up before it’s too late, we’re going to need some help. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) engineered an enzyme that can digest some of the most commonly polluting plastics, PET.

Back in 2016, Japanese scientists from the Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University found a bacteria that likes to eat PET plastic, one of the most common variants of plastic. PET is mainly used for products like water bottles, packaging, polyester clothing and more. The bacteria were discovered when the researchers were looking for special microbes near a plastic bottle recycling facility.

The researchers at the University of Portsmouth and NREL were studying the structure of the enzyme that they believed made it possible for the bacteria in Japan to digest plastic. However, they accidentally engineered the enzyme in such a way that it became even better at breaking down PET plastics.

In addition to PET, the plastic eating enzyme can also digest PEF (polyethylene furandicarboxylate), the bio-based substitute for PET.

The team is currently working on making the enzyme even better at digesting plastic. While it certainly is not a substitute for using less plastic, the enzymes may help us clean up microplastics.

For plastic eating edible mushrooms, click here.