United Kingdom government pledges £61m to fight plastic waste in Commonwealth countries

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Two scientists have accidentally stumbled upon an organic enzyme that can eat some of our worst polluting plastics, providing a possible solution to what is arguably one of the world's biggest environmental problems.

The DFID will also support research into solutions to reduce manufacturing pollution, and carry out waste management pilot programs to help tackle the waste from cities that too often ends up in the world's oceans and rivers.

Dr Colin Miles, Head of Strategy for Industrial Biotechnology at BBSRC, added: 'This is a highly novel piece of science based on a detailed molecular-level understanding of an enzyme able to depolymerise a common type of plastic, whose persistence in the environment has become a global issue.

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"The engineering process is much the same as for enzymes now being used in bio-washing detergents and in the manufacture of biofuels", said McGeehan.

AN ENZYME that gobbles up plastic could be the answer to the world's recycling headache, say British scientists. Their thinking was that if they could understand how it came about in a relatively short space of time, perhaps they could understand how to make it more effective at eating plastic.

The researchers worked with scientists at Diamond Light Source (DLS) in the United Kingdom, deploying a synchrotron that uses intense beams of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun to act as a microscope powerful enough to see individual atoms. Enzymes are a form of protein that act as catalysts in biochemical reactions.

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Finding the enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers made a decision to "tweak" its structure by adding amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work. The trait indicated that PETase may have evolved in a PET-containing environment to enable the enzyme to degrade PET. "This unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics".

Upon inspecting the model the teams found it looked very similar to another enzyme known as a cutinase.

"The technology exists and it's well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET and potentially other substrates like PEF, PLA, and PBS, back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled", said McGeehan.

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