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Words Matter: Plastic Eaters!

A team of scientists have discovered how to utilize enzymes in order to digest plastic, a process that is up to six times faster than the usual speed; this is a huge deal! As consumers, we tend to overuse plastics which leaves extreme negative effects on ecosystems and the world in general. The environment, animals, water, and human living spaces have become littered with plastic. This is toxic for wildlife and, since we are all connected, is therefore bad for humans. Plastic waste takes a very long time to break down, which is why this newfound “cocktail” of enzymes is crucial. Plastics are used at a high rate and are found in an abundance of everyday items, to the extent that it is hard to live a life that has NO carbon footprint. Limiting the use of plastic items and following REDUCE REUSE and RECYCLE is a great way to limit your carbon footprint and make a positive impact on society and the environment as a whole. Inspire your peers and community to do so too!

We can also be inspired by the efforts of scientists, such as the team that discovered how to speed up the process of plastic digestion, to take larger steps towards a future in which plastics and ecosystems have a healthier relationship. The team combined PETase and MHETase; these are two different enzymes. Rosie Graham, a joint Portsmouth CEI-NREL PhD student said: "My favourite part of research is how the ideas start, whether it's over coffee, on a train commute or when passing in the university corridors it can really be at any moment.” Professor McGeehan said,"Gregg and I were chatting about how PETase attacks the surface of the plastics and MHETase chops things up further, so it seemed natural to see if we could use them together, mimicking what happens in nature.

"Our first experiments showed that they did indeed work better together, so we decided to try to physically link them, like two Pac-men joined by a piece of string.

"It took a great deal of work on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was worth the effort -- we were delighted to see that our new chimeric enzyme is up to three times faster than the naturally evolved separate enzymes, opening new avenues for further improvements."


University of Portsmouth. "Plastic-eating enzyme 'cocktail' heralds new hope for plastic waste." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 September 2020. <>.

Written by: Hannah Burleson

Edited by: Katie Last

Graphic by: Teju Calambakkam

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