Humans have become a pest to the Earth’s ecosystem. Our industrial nature has left behind a trail of destruction and waste that are polluting the ecosystem. One of such waste is the plastic bottle (or PET), which now fills land mines, block city drainage systems, and make an eye-soar site to the environment.
A 2017 research revealed that there were 30 million pieces of plastic waste found on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific waters. During the same year, it was revealed that a million plastic bottles were being bought every minute around the world. Forecast shows the numbers will jump by 20% by the year 2021.
Left on their own, plastics would take centuries before the slightest process of degeneration is registered. The material can withstand the test of time, and the fact that they are often a single-use material then thrown away means plastic waste will be around for a long time. It takes a century for plastic to even begin the process of natural decay and rot.
However, that could soon change thanks to a freak lab accident by scientists working on a bacterium. According to a journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of scientists created a mutant enzyme capable of breaking down plastic drink bottles.
The creation of the enzyme came by as an accident. The team lead by Prof. John McGeeham at the University of Portsmouth, UK were working on a bacterium discovered back in 2016 in a waste dump in Japan. The bacterium has naturally evolved to eating plastic, and the scientists took it to the lab and started tweaking it to better digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The plastic container used for soft drinks.
The new enzyme starts to break down the plastic in a matter of days, as opposed to the centuries it would take to kick-start the process out in the ocean.
“What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” McGeehan told The Guardian.
“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic. It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil, and fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”