>> Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered an enzyme that eats plastic, a breakthrough that could help in the fight against pollution. The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. That's a type of plastic used in millions of tons of plastic bottles.
PET plastic currently liters landfills and oceans worldwide. Researchers from Britain's 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 recycling center in Japan. That enzyme could breakdown or digest plastic.
But slowly. That's when they began to experiment.>> We actually thought we were making the enzyme slower by changing a few amino acids. But actually, we've made it faster. We've made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already. That's really exciting because that means that there's potential to optimize this enzyme even further.
>> The team hopes to one day produce the enzyme on an industrial scale.>> At the moment, plastic isn't really recycled. It either ends up in landfill or it's burned. If it's burned, then it generates CO2, and then you need to make more plastic by digging up more oil.
This system would allow you to recycle plastic back again properly, 100% recycled, 100% sustainable.>> Independent scientists not involved with the research said it was exciting, but cautioned that the enzyme's development as a potential solution was still at an early stage.