Scientists in Britain and the US say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could help in the fight against pollution in the future. The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET — a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide. Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the US department of energy’s national renewable energy laboratory made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme thought to have evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan. Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down — or digest — PET plastic, the researchers decided to "tweak" its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work. This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme’s actions — allowing its plastic-ea...

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