A newly-created enzyme that scientists accidentally engineered in the lab turned out to have an unexpected effect, reveals a study published yesterday (April 17) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The enzyme, a mutant version of the naturally occurring PETase found in a plastic-eating microbe, boosted the bug's appetite and turned it ravenous, LiveScience reports.
According to Reuters, the mutant enzyme holds important potential and could become a valuable ally in managing the plastic pollution crisis.
The news couldn't have come at a better time and has a stronger relevance in the context of Earth Day 2018, celebrated this weekend, on April 22.
Given that this year's theme is centered around the fight against plastic pollution, as Earth Day Network informs, this latest research could offer a different approach to reducing plastic litter and pollution.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth (UoP) in the U.K. together with colleagues from the University of South Florida in Tampa and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, builds on the properties of a newfound plastic-eating bacterium called Ideonella sakaiensis.
This plastic-munching microbe was only discovered in 2016, notes LiveScience, in a waste recycling center in Japan. This bacterium was found to contain an enzyme later dubbed PETase, which helped the microbe digest plastic made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Since Ideonella sakaiensis lived in the soil of a Japanese PET bottle-recycling facility, this durable type of plastic was its main food source, states a UoP news release.