An international team of scientists discovered the first plastic-eating enzyme, a naturally-evolved bacterium capable of breaking down plastic bottles, in a Japanese dump in mid-2016. A Japanese bug secretes this organism that is one of the only natural consumers of PET(polyethylene terephthalate), a plastic used to produce soft drink bottles.
PET plastics currently account for 20 percent of total global plastic production and current recycling efforts only
The international team of scientists conducted experiments on the bacterium from a Japanese bug; the enzyme was placed under the Diamond Light Source near Oxford, UK, a X-Ray 10 billion times stronger than the sun, to separate the individual atoms. The Guardian reports that, “The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to explore this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.”
The Diamond Light Source had unintentionally optimized the efficiency of the enzyme, while Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, led the research team
“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,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”