Plastic-eating bugs discovered in Japan might be the answer to the plastic pollution epidemic!
Plastic pollution in our oceans and landfills has become a growing international concern. Only 14% of plastic drinking bottles in the world are actually recycled, and scientists have been researching a way to radically increase that number. At a Japanese dump in 2016, they found a potential answer to the growing crisis – plastic-eating bugs.
These mutant enzymes evolved with the ability to naturally break down PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the plastic used in making plastic drinking bottles. While scientists examined the enzyme to research its structure and evolution, they accidentally restructured the bacterium for the better. Using the Diamond Light Source, intense X-ray beams, scientists unexpectedly manipulated the enzyme, improving its ability to break down plastic bottles.
The small portion of bottles that are recycled today can only be remade into clothing or carpets, but the enzyme’s plastic break down process allows for bottles to be fully recycled back into their original form. In this case, there would be no need to create new plastic. With the ability to produce the enzyme in large amounts, scientists propose that one day there will be a way to spray the bacterium in masses on to mounds of plastic bottles in oceans or landfills to deplete them!
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