United Kingdom government pledges £61m to fight plastic waste in Commonwealth countries

A £61.4 million package to find new ways of cleaning up and preventing plastic waste is expected to be announced

According to John McGeehan, a professor at the University of Portsmouth, UK who led the research, "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".

Finding that this enzyme was helping a type of bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers made a decision to "tweak" its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

The goal was to determine its structure, but they ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics.

The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time. Using intense X-rays at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire, the team inadvertently created a powerful new version of the protein.

It was also confirmed that from later in 2018, the Department for International Development will match public donations to tackle the issue of plastic waste in the world's oceans and rivers, "in recognition of the passionate response of the United Kingdom public to the issue". This suggests there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics'.


"It is a unique organisation with the strength and the commitment to make a difference".

Sky and National Geographic will partner on a new set of grants to be given to projects that develop solutions to stop plastic reaching waterways.

Scientists from the University of South Florida and the University of Campinas in Brazil did computer modelling which showed PETase looked similar to another enzyme, cutinase, found in fungus and bacteria. To test that hypothesis, the researchers mutated the PETase active site to make it more like a cutinase.

In addition to digesting PET, the new enzyme was also capable of degrading polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a bio-based form of plastic being hailed as a replacement for glass beer bottles.

"But they ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics", said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed USA journal. "I am delighted to be part of an worldwide team that is tackling one of the biggest problems facing our planet".

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