An enzyme that breaks down plastic in 24 hours

(ORDO NEWS) — In the new work, scientists used machine learning to develop an enzyme that breaks down some forms of plastic in as little as 24 hours. The enzyme is quite stable and can be used in industry.

PET plastic will only appear more, but it is not so easy to recycle it. Fortunately, a new “fast” enzyme that literally digests this plastic can help do this.

Scientists have been exploring the potential of enzymes for plastics processing for more than a decade, but over the past six years they have made significant progress.

In 2016, researchers in Japan discovered a bacterium that used enzymes to break down PET plastic within weeks.

The scientists then improved these natural substances by creating PETase (PETase). This synthetic substance had even greater performance.

And in 2020, scientists developed an even more powerful version of the enzyme that could recycle PET plastic six times faster.

New plastic recycling enzyme

A team from the University of Texas set out to address some of the shortcomings in these enzymes that have been reported by Japanese researchers so far.

The technology has been held back by its inability to function well at low temperatures and various pH ranges, its lack of efficiency when handling raw plastic waste directly, and its slow reaction rate, the scientists said.

To solve these problems, American scientists developed a machine learning model that could show which mutations in the PETase enzyme would solve its deficiencies.

To do this, the authors conducted a thorough analysis of some PET plastic products – for the most part today these are bottles for water, milk and oil.

Created according to the “predictions” of the neural network, the enzyme was able to very effectively break down PET plastics at temperatures from 30 to 50 ° C and in a wide pH range.

It was able to almost completely degrade 51 different products of this type of plastic within a week, and in some experiments it destroyed plastics in as little as 24 hours.

The scientists also demonstrated a closed-loop PET recycling process in which a new enzyme (called FAST-PETase, by the way) was used to break down plastics, and then the recovered monomers were used to chemically reconstruct the material.

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