A genetically modified enzyme that can digest polymers could help with one of the biggest environmental problems of our age, the vast quantities of plastic waste we have generated over the last few decades and continue to produce. The enzyme specifically degrades polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the commonest thermoplastic and one of the most widely used polymers used in clothing, food and drink packaging in combination with glass fiber for engineering resins. The ubiquity of plastic has become an increasing problem in recent years with the recognition of the huge amount of waste plastic that ends up in the world's waterways and oceans. Of course, one of the benefits of polymers is their robustness and stability but this also underpins one of the biggest problems in their disposal. “We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’, must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions,” says John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, UK who worked alongside Gregg Beckham of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory NREL.
Enzyme digests plastic