At this point we all know that plastic is a massive environmental problem. And many people are changing their behaviour. Some more than others, but it is a working process. So hopefully we manage to minimise plastic use as much as possible. However, even if that is accomplished what happens to all the plastic that is already in circulation? According to Surfers against Sewage, approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution end up in the ocean every day. And a lot of it kills animals and destroys ecosystems.
Scientists might be on the way to solve this problem. In 2016 a Bacterium was discovered on a Japanese plastic recycling plant that ate and degrades plastic. Researchers went on to study the Bacterium further and discover an enzyme, which they named PETase. Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL studied PETase to understand how it works. During this process they accidentally enhanced the enzyme and made it more efficient in what it was already doing. The original enzyme developed naturally but with the scientists’ enhancements it might be possible to use it in an industrial recycling plant. A lot of this research happens at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation which is part of the University of Portsmouth. The research is split into three different areas:
1. Discover: The enzyme PETase mainly breaks down PET. Which is very useful since it is used in a lot of plastic bottles. The scientists working in this department are looking for other enzymes that can break down different kinds of plastic.