Researchers "accidentally" engineered a natural enzyme found in a Japanese waste recycling plant to eat plastic waste. According to the scientists from the UK's University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, degrades polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the material used to make plastic bottles and other crap. The photo above is an electron microscope image of the enzyme degrading PET plastic.
"We hoped to determine (the enzyme's) structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics," NREL's lead researcher Gregg Beckham told CNN. From the University of Portsmouth:
"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception," Professor McGeehan said.
"Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics."