New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that a super-enzyme engineered in the lab can degrade plastic six times faster than a previous plastic-eating enzyme. The super-enzyme, engineered by a team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth, is expected to help boost efforts to recycle plastics. Many single-use plastics end up in landfills and bodies of water. But the new super-enzyme could help rid of such waste.

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The super-enzyme was developed in a lab by linking two separate enzymes found in a plastic-eating bug, which was first discovered at a Japanese waste site in 2016. Because the two enzymes could not combine naturally, scientists initiated the process of engineering a super-enzyme by combining the two enzymes. In 2018, the first official plastic-degrading enzyme was engineered to break down plastic within a few days. The scientists say that the super-enzyme breaks down plastics at a rate that is six times faster than the 2018 version.

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“When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,“ said John McGeehan, professor at the University of Portsmouth, U.K. “This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.”

The new findings now open avenues for investment into plastic recycling in the next few years. Further, the researchers have suggested that combining this super-enzyme with existing cotton-degrading enzymes could also help recycle different types of fabric.

The research was conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Portsmouth in collaboration with four U.S.-based institutions. The researchers are still making changes to the enzymes to find out if they can speed up the process.

“There’s huge potential,” said McGeehan. “We’ve got several hundred in the lab that we’re currently sticking together.”

+ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Via The Guardian

Image via Nick Fewings