Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin in the latest issueNatureThe magazine pointed out that they have developed a new enzyme variant FAST-PETase, which can decompose plastics that normally take hundreds of years to degrade in a few hours to a few days, which is expected to greatly promote the recycling of plastics and truly open the curtain of the plastic circular economy.
Professor Hal Alper, head of the latest research, said the new enzyme they had developed is mainly aimed at polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic that appears on most consumer packaging, including cookie boxes, soda bottles, fruit and salad packaging, as well as certain fibers and textiles, accounting for 12% of the world’s total waste, which may be as high as billions of tons.
In the latest study, Alper et al. used machine learning models to develop new mutations in a natural enzyme called PETase, predicting which mutations would quickly depolymer waste plastics at low temperatures, and then studied 51 different plastic containers, 5 different polyester fibers and fabrics, and all water bottles made of PET, demonstrating the effectiveness of one of them called FAST-PETase enzyme.
The researchers note that the new enzyme variant is capable of completing a “cyclic process” that breaks down plastic into smaller pieces (depolymerize) and then chemically reassembles it (repolymerizes). In some cases, these plastics can be completely broken down into monomers within 24 hours.
Recycling is the best way to reduce plastic waste, but globally, less than 10% of plastic is recycled. In addition to throwing plastic into landfills, the most common treatment method is to burn it, but this method is costly, energy-intensive, and emits harmful gases into the air. Other alternative industrial processes include glycolysis, pyrolysis and/or methanol lysis, but these processes are also very energy-intensive.
Biological solutions, on the other hand, consume much less energy. For the past 15 years, scientists have been working on the use of enzymes to recycle plastics and have made some progress. But so far no one has figured out how to make enzymes that can operate efficiently at low temperatures and thus be better used on a large scale. The latest research confirms that FAST PETase can break down plastics at temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius. Get more cutting-edge research progress visit: https://byteclicks.com
Next, the team plans to scale up the production of this enzyme in preparation for industrial and environmental applications. The researchers say the enzyme is expected to play a role in waste disposal industries such as cleaning up landfills. To that end, they’re working on multiple ways to transport these enzymes into the wild to clean up contaminated sites.