With it, plastic degrades in 24 hours

All kinds of plastic products that have appeared since the 20th century have provided a lot of convenience to our lives, but they have also caused a huge burden to the environment we live in due to their refractory characteristics.

PET plastic (scientific name polyethylene terephthalate), which accounts for 12% of all global waste, takes hundreds of years to degrade naturally. Today, microplastic pollution has invaded the human body, and it is urgent to solve plastic pollution.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

Therefore, people have been trying to "eliminate" these discarded plastic products for many years. While recycling is the most obvious way to reduce plastic waste, less than 10% of the world's plastic is recycled, and the rest is either thrown into landfills or burned. Not only the cost is high, the energy consumption is large, but also toxic gas is produced.

▲ Picture from: Flo-Bro

In various attempts such as pyrolysis and the use of methanol, scientists have found an effective method – the use of enzymes to decompose waste plastics. A few years ago, researchers in Japan discovered a plastic-eating bacteria that breaks down PET plastic in a matter of weeks with the action of enzymes.

After that, researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom designed a stronger enzyme, "PETase", and combined it with another enzyme called "MHETase" to form a "PETase". "Super Enzyme" that can "eat" PET plastic six times faster.

▲ Picture from: New Atlas

Not long ago, this plastic-eating enzyme became stronger again. A team at the University of Texas has improved on some of the shortcomings of the "PETase" enzyme, such as its inability to operate well at low temperatures and at different pH ranges, lack of effectiveness in directly treating untreated plastic waste, and slow reaction times. Wait.

▲ Picture from: cnBeta

To make the "PETase" enzyme stronger, the researchers developed a machine-learning model that predicts which mutations in the enzyme can remove obstacles, such as how quickly the waste products left after consumption are depolymerized at low temperatures plastic.

Using machine learning predictions and research, the researchers designed an enzyme with better function, activity, stability, and tolerance, called "FAST-PETase."

▲ Picture from: UTNEWS

In tests, the "FAST-PETase" enzyme almost completely degraded 51 different consumer-generated plastic containers, 5 different polyester fibers and fabrics, and water bottles made of PET within a week. In some experiments, it even broke down plastic in as little as 24 hours.

Through testing, researchers have verified its effectiveness. What's more, the "FAST-PETase" enzyme not only breaks down faster, but can also function at temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius, which means it can be used more widely.

▲ Picture from: UTNEWS

Next, the team plans to scale up the production of the enzyme in preparation for industrial and environmental applications. Researchers have filed patent applications for the technology and plan several different uses, such as cleaning up landfills; Environmental remediation.

▲ Picture from: UTNEWS

The impact of waste plastics on us has been too much for too long. The emergence of the "FAST-PETase" enzyme is the common wisdom of various disciplines such as synthetic biology, chemical engineering and artificial intelligence. It is also a feasible way to deal with plastic pollution. road. It is hoped that with its power, the pollution caused by plastic products can gradually disappear in our environment.

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