The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme further with the tools of protein engineering and evolution to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.
The battle against plastic pollution has taken an unexpected turn as an worldwide scientist team develops an enzyme which naturally digests PET as its main energy source.
Commenting on yesterday's (15 April) announcement, environment secretary Michael Gove explained that a global approach is needed to tackle plastic pollution.
"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research, and our discovery here is no exception", said study author John McGeehan, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth. Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: "I think [the new research] is very exciting work, showing there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem".
Researchers in the United States and Britain have accidentally engineered an enzyme which eats plastic and may eventually help solve the growing problem of plastic pollution, a study said Monday.
PET, patented as a plastic in the 1940s, has not existed in nature for long, so the team set out to determine how an enzyme called PETase evolved and if it might be possible to improve it by determining its structure.
"Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms", he said.
Dr Colin Miles, Head of Strategy for Industrial Biotechnology at BBSRC, added: "This is a highly novel piece of science based on a detailed molecular-level understanding of an enzyme able to depolymerise a common type of plastic, whose persistence in the environment has become a global issue. [But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction".
"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'. The new enzyme indicates a way to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.
The ministry has notified the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018, which specifies phasing out of those multi-layered plastics (MLPs) that are "non-recyclable, non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use", an official statement said.
According to Innova Market Insights data, 58 percent of globally launched food and beverage products are packaged in plastic, a 5 percent increase from 2013, while 96 percent of all newly launched water products in 2017 are packaged in PET bottles.