A new discovery has been hailed as a vital breakthrough in the fight to rid the oceans of plastics.
A team led by the University of Portsmouth has created a plastic-eating enzyme which can digest some of the most common plastics found as waste in the oceans.
The enzyme could make a significant contribution to removing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from the oceans – the plastic used in single-use plastic bottles and other common packaging.
Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year, causing serious threats to sea birds, fish and other ocean species.
The discovery of the enzyme was a freak accident, after the scientists were examining the structure of a natural enzyme used in a waste recycling centre in Japan. The team soon realised that they had stumbled across an even more effective way of breaking down PET plastics.
Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said:
Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception.
The team claims that the discovery could result in millions of tonnes of plastic being recycled and are now working on an even more effective solution to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.
The project was a global effort spearheaded by the University of Portsmouth, involving scientists from around the world, including the US and Brazil.
Professor McGeehan said that it was the responsibility of his global counterparts to come together to tackle the issue of plastic filled oceans.
We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’, must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions.
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