AN AI ENGINEERED ENZYME THAT BREAKS PLASTIC DOWN IN DAYS, NOT CENTURIES




AI Engineered enzyme breaks down Plastic in days, not centuries according to an study released in Nature,


Plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) takes years to degrade. Specifically, a water bottle made of PET takes about 450 years to degrade. Before PET degrades in 450 years, it turns into micro plastics, which has been found in living people’s lung tissue. There is significant effort made today to produce biodegradable and bioresorbable plastics, but that doesn’t fix the tons of plastics that exist and that we keep generating. The landfill of discarded plastics in the United States is still about 75%.

Hal Alpert’s chemical engineering lab located at the University of Texas reported in Nature that they had created an enzyme called FAST-PETase. This FAST-PETase was developed using artificial intelligence. FAST-PETase degrades untreated postconsumer PET in days, not centuries. The degradation can be done at temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius and below. Many bacteria survives at temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius or below.


Experiments were done on plastic sardine can and phone case. Both were completely degraded in 48 hours.


How does this happen?


Evidently there are bacteria that exist that can eat plastic as the main source of carbon and energy. These bacteria became known to humans in 2016 and they were named Ideonella sakaiensis. These bacteria were isolated on the outside of a Japanese bottle-recycling plant and in this environment, these bacteria evolved the capability to eat plastic.


These bacteria break plastic down in two steps The first step—PETase— is that these bacteria have to make and secrete an enzyme that can get its way into the plastic and separate the C-O bonds that hold the polymer together. When this happens, the small molecules are left behind, which are MHET and ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. Once this break down occurs, there are many other bacteria that exists that can chow down on these molecules and convert them to CO2 and water.

The challenge is that we need to make the PETase step as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, PETase is not very stable and loses all of its activity within 24 hours at 37 degree Celsius. PETase’s activity is only good at high temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius.


So processes that rely on PETase at ambient-like temperatures will suffer from instability and low rates of activity. The goal then was to make PETase more stable. In 2018, the structural function of PETase had been solved and scientists now know how this protein folds up and the location of all of its amino acids relative to one another.


Other processes were made to create more stability. Eventually an engineered FAST-PETase was made. This holistically engineered enzyme maintains its activity even at lower temperatures. So instead of having to have high temperature up to 72 degrees to create the activity for breakdown, you get terrific activity at 50 degree Celsius. 50°C (122°F). Normally chemical reactions go quicker at heated temperatures since molecules are moving around faster, and so a reaction at 72 degrees Celsius should go about 25% faster than one at 50°C. But this new FAST-PETase enzyme flips that assumption on its head because FAST-PETase structure makes it that much more awesomely effective as a catalyst.

Simply put, while there is lot of hope in biodegradable and compostable plastics, we haven’t stopped completely our use of petroleum-based plastics (PET). And we still have hills of plastics to deal with. But with this new engineered enzyme, we are a lot closer to dealing with our plastics problem.

Like bacteria when faced with the need to survive, we too can become really smart all of a sudden. And we just found a new way to attack plastic waste. Thank you Japan.


ABOUT THE BLOGGER

La Shon Y. Fleming Bruce a/k/a SHONSPEAKS is a blogger, futurists, certified brain health specialist, speaker, and lead creator of freeyourthinkingmind.com. I am also a lawyer and managing member of The Fleming-Bruce Law Firm, P.L.L.C. If you want to check out more of my writings that may not be released on this site, go over to my website at freeyourthinkingmind.com

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