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Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

OrbitalDawn

Ulysses Everett McGill
Joined
Aug 26, 2011
Messages
39,504
#1
The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

“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,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
 
Joined
May 20, 2010
Messages
2,016
#2
Nice. It's better than tweaking the microbes in my opinion. I still have some reservations on GMO bacteria since bacteria have often been powerful drivers of geologic and significant climate changes in the earth's history.

But yeah. The concern is rather... vague.
 

Zophos

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 3, 2017
Messages
406
#6
Ok, so how exactly are they planning on containing the [Edit: bacteria that produce the] enzyme?

This is a good step, and if it is limited to breaking down plastic bottles, the risk is minimal.

But..

If this "mutant" [Edit: bacteria that produces the] enzyme mutates to [Edit: produce an enzyme that ] consume ALL types of plastic, we might have a problem.

Edit: Better now?
 
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Scooby_Doo

Executive Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2005
Messages
5,828
#8
Ok, so how exactly are they planning on containing the enzyme?

This is a good step, and if it is limited to breaking down plastic bottles, the risk is minimal.

But..

If this "mutant" enzyme mutates to consume ALL types of plastic, we might have a problem.
I think the idea is to release it into the oceans, rivers or where ever there is a stupid amount of plastic that needs to be removed.
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2006
Messages
57,352
#10
The most used resource in the world is plastic. Can you imagine what would happen if that escapes and multiplies? :eek:
 
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now05ster

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 8, 2011
Messages
602
#12
The most used resource in the world is plastic. can you imagine what would happen if that escapes and multiplies? :eek:
Remember reading a book with that same premise. For the life of me can't find the title now.

I think this is a great breakthrough! Just need to guard against he unintended consequences.
 

yebocan

Executive Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2005
Messages
8,144
#14
this is a good thing, I just hope it does not mutate into eating through metal
...good plot for a movie...eureka! we discover an enzyme that eats plastic...down the line, enzyme mutates, spreads and starts breaking down concrete...world faces collapse...
 

konfab

Honorary Master
Joined
Jun 23, 2008
Messages
16,557
#16
I am going to have to put a reign on everyone's parade.

Firstly, enzymes are molecular structures that serve as highly efficient catalysts for reactions. This means that the process of evolution doesn't actually apply to enzymes themselves as there is no natural selection.

The bacterium that evolved to produce this enzyme certainly can evolve, but that is a different story.
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2006
Messages
57,352
#18
I am going to have to put a reign on everyone's parade.

Firstly, enzymes are molecular structures that serve as highly efficient catalysts for reactions. This means that the process of evolution doesn't actually apply to enzymes themselves as there is no natural selection.

The bacterium that evolved to produce this enzyme certainly can evolve, but that is a different story.
Enzymes can mutate. No need to "evolution" so to speak.
 
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