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Thread: Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

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    Lightbulb Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

    From the ecological point of view, this is good news. But as with everything, the coin has two sides. It could one day become weaponized in order to break down plastic bonds that should best be left alone — e.g. insulators. Still, let's look at it from the bright side.





    Source: The Guardian





    The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis


    Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

    The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

    The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

    The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

    “What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

    About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest parts, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood. “It is incredibly resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific,” said McGeehan. “It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well.”

    However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be turned into opaque fibres for clothing or carpets. 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.

    “You are always up against the fact that oil is cheap, so virgin PET is cheap,” said McGeehan. “It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even try to recycle. But I believe there is a public driver here: perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these.”

    The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, began by determining the precise structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10bn times brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

    The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to explore this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.

    “It is a modest improvement – 20% better – but that is not the point,” said McGeehan. “It’s incredible because it tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.”

    Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 times faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

    One possible improvement being explored is to transplant the mutant enzyme into an “extremophile bacteria” that can survive temperatures above the 70C melting point of PET – the plastic is likely to degrade 10-100 times faster when molten.

    Earlier work had shown that some fungi can break down PET plastic, which makes up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.

    Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said: “People are now searching vigorously for those.” PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating bugs might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

    “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,” said Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.

    “Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” he said. “There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable. [But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction.”

    Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, agreed the enzyme could be useful but added: “A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem – waste – at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions.”


    Source: The Guardian
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    Super Moderator Norway Elen's Avatar
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    Seems like Nature has started dealing with the problem all by Herself, hey? Yeah, the thought of mice eating the insulation on Electrical cables, comes to mind.
    Whatever is true. Whatever is noble. Whatever is right. Whatever is lovely. Whatever is admirable. Anything of excellence and worthy of praise. Dwell on these things. Jesus Christ (I agree)

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    Two points.

    If we apply the so-called black budget technology rule of thumb, this ought to have already been invented decades ago in a secret bunker... ;-)

    And it is a positive thing if a bug can eat petrochemical waste. And wow humans are so well meaning and on to it, and never make foolish errors founded on volitile mixes of arrogance and naivety. :-)

    Oh 3 points. I recall hearing of some of the earlier findings and it sounded great the way the information was packaged. It was almost as if nature had created the bugs to heal itself. Which, is the case anyway if we chose to view ourselves as part of nature.


    oh and it really is great news. Providing it works for all and is used to fix, rather than as an excuse to just continue spilling plastic waste everywhere.
    Last edited by enjoy being, 17th April 2018 at 13:21.

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    Senior Member NotAPretender's Avatar
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    yeah, enzymes have been used for many years to attack oil spills...a plastic eater is something new...
    "We are one thought away from changing the world!"

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    My 45 years in “Defense” tells me that anything that can be weaponized WILL be weaponized.

    ...plastic eating bugs? Yup, had them for a while.
    "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the object of your anger to die” ~ Anon
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    Quote Originally posted by Dumpster Diver View Post
    My 45 years in “Defense” tells me that anything that can be weaponized WILL be weaponized.
    Alas, all too true, and especially by a certain warmongering nation whose population speaks in acronyms.
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    Senior Member NotAPretender's Avatar
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    omigosh, I flubbermuloxed that you would say that Aragorn.

    Perhaps it is all about balance. But you know the one thing that will never stop ringing true is this. The scale of good and bad, like all things in nature, have coincidental analogous measures, the lower and higher self.

    <lower Nature ............... higher nature> <Weaponization ..................... De-weaponization><Need for war ..................... Need for peace><apparent insanity ............. sanity><cesspools ................ swamps> I threw that last one in just for fun.
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    Quote Originally posted by NotAPretender View Post
    [...] flubbermuloxed [...]
    Um, that's not a dictionary word, NotAPretender. What does it mean?
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    Senior Member NotAPretender's Avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Aragorn View Post
    Um, that's not a dictionary word, NotAPretender. What does it mean?
    it's phonetic...it means pretty much how it sounds. Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!

    and don't say 'stupid' ... I'm being hilariously funny!
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    Quote Originally posted by Aragorn View Post
    Alas, all too true, and especially by a certain warmongering nation whose population speaks in acronyms.
    Yeah, well, a bunch of other nations will do it as well. Besides, we look to the Belgians for state of the art weaponized Pedophile systems.

    ...hey, we all have our special skill sets!
    Last edited by Dumpster Diver, 17th April 2018 at 17:34.
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    Quote Originally posted by Dumpster Diver View Post
    Yeah, well, a bunch of other nations will do it as well. Besides, we look to the Belgians for state of the art weaponized Pedophile systems.
    Are you referring to the so-called Pink Ballets network? Its existence was never officially acknowledged and was claimed by the authorities to have been the product of the imagination of (among others) an unreliable witness in the Dutroux affair, but I personally do believe that there may have been truth to it.

    One possible but, if true, very compelling reason for covering it up was that a member of the royal family was named in the investigation, and the entourage of the royal family is certainly influential enough to make such nasty inconveniences disappear. I even believe that the members of the royal family enjoy parliamentary and/or constitutional immunity, but for their entourage, that in itself isn't enough yet. They want the records wiped blank, and they'll do whatever it takes to make it so.

    I'm not even sure who the royal family member was who was implicated, but I would wager that it would probably have been Albert II, king Boudewijn's younger brother, who took the throne in 1993 when Boudewijn unexpectedly died while on vacation in Spain, and who from then on remained the incumbent monarch until only a few years ago, when he finally abdicated the throne to his eldest son Philippe.

    Boudewijn himself had already been grooming Philippe as his successor for a long time, and so it came as somewhat of a surprise — although constitutionally mandated by the line of succession — that when Boudewijn died, it was Albert II who took the throne instead of his son. And he kept the throne for 20 years too, in spite of his own son, whom the royal family deemed "not ready yet".

    Albert II was quite a womanizer in his younger days, just like his father Leopold III. And just like his father, Albert II has an illegitimate child, whom he still refuses to recognize to date. Albert II was very different from his brother Boudewijn, who was much more ascetic — very much like Philippe. Philippe's own younger brother Laurent — who is my age — is also said to have at least one illegitimate child.

    If the existence of the Pink Ballets was indeed real, then it would have been a kind of extortion network with "Illuminati-style" orgies — think of Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" — in which orphaned children were being prostituted, and in which influential people who had sex with these children were then videotaped, or something like that.

    So if that is what you mean by "weaponized pedophilia", then I guess the term would make sense. But I don't see in what other way it could. The Belgian military may have already been implicated and involved in several financial shenanigans, but to the best of my knowledge, never in anything to do with pedophilia or prostitution.

    Anyway, that's all off-topic for this thread.
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    Quote Originally posted by NotAPretender View Post
    omigosh, I flubbermuloxed that you would say that Aragorn.

    Perhaps it is all about balance. But you know the one thing that will never stop ringing true is this. The scale of good and bad, like all things in nature, have coincidental analogous measures, the lower and higher self.

    <lower Nature ............... higher nature> <Weaponization ..................... De-weaponization><Need for war ..................... Need for peace><apparent insanity ............. sanity><cesspools ................ swamps> I threw that last one in just for fun.
    ummm.. i want to try!!

    underware and panties!


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    Quote Originally posted by Greenbarry View Post
    ummm.. i want to try!!

    underware and panties!

    hmmm, interesting...
    "We are one thought away from changing the world!"

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    Well, the “weaponized pedophilia” comment was my very poor attempt to channel Christopher Hitchens, “Gawd” rest his soul.
    "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the object of your anger to die” ~ Anon
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    "If life gives you melons...you might be dyslexic" ~ Aixelsyd Dnarber

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