AUSTIN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Scientists and engineers at the University of Texas at Austin created an enzyme variant capable of breaking down plastics in a matter of days.
The plastic-eating enzyme can break down plastics that would typically take centuries to degrade, according to a post by UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering.
“The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this leading-edge recycling process,” said Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at UT in the post. “Beyond the obvious waste management industry, this also provides corporations from every sector the opportunity to take lead in recycling their products. Through these more sustainable enzyme approaches, we can begin to envision a true circular plastics economy.”
The particular plastic that was broken down by the enzyme is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which makes up 12% of all global waste, the post stated.
The team used a “machine learning model” that helped generate mutations to a natural enzyme called PETase. This enzyme is capable of breaking down the plastics into smaller parts, that allows for bacteria to degrade it.
“This work really demonstrates the power of bringing together different disciplines, from synthetic biology to chemical engineering to artificial intelligence,” said Andrew Ellington, professor in the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology in the release.
The hope is that this discovery could help address the issue of billions of tons of waste in landfills and natural lands and water, the post stated.