It must be a happy accident that helped Scientists create mutant enzymes that feed on plastic, which is like a dream come true for all of us bothered by the world’s plastic pollution problem. But the solution is nowhere.
According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers has successfully created a mutant enzyme that feeds on and degrades plastic drinking bottles.
The team which was led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, was initially tweaking a bacterium that they had found in a Japanese waste dump in the year 2016. Unbelievable as it may sound, this bacterium had undergone a natural evolution that equipped it to ingest plastic. During the experiment, the scientists had accidentally made it even better. It can now break down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the complex organic molecule or plastic used for drink bottles. To add the icing on the cake, this break-down process starts and gets over in days, not quite like the centuries that the present oceanic biodegradability possibilities offer.
McGeehan sounded really happy in his interview with the British Daily, the Guardian. For him, it was a shock to have inadvertently improved the enzyme, and he considered it a great research finding.
McGeehan actually hopes to turn plastic to its original chemical components by letting the bacteria eat on it, which components can again be used to make plastic. For him, this will cause a significant decrease in petroleum mining and virgin plastic manufacturing should no longer pose a threat to the environment. This should also reduce the existing amount of plastic in the environment, which is indeed huge.
According to statistical figures from the researchers, in the year 2017 alone, which is only last year, 38 million pieces of plastic waste were illegally dumped on an uninhabited South Pacific island. Figures from 2017 also showed that every minute, a whopping million people around the world are buying plastic bottles. To make matters even worse, this number is to increase by 20 percent by the year 2021.
We should really pray that these Bacterial X-MEN prove to be a lasting solution to this haunting problem.