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Scientists develop enzyme that breaks down PET 

EcoNote | May 23, 2022 | By:

A multidisciplinary team based at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), has developed a polyethylene terephthalate hydrolase (PETase) capable of breaking down untreated post-consumer PET in a single week, according to a study published in Nature.

Testing included 51 different post-consumer plastic containers, five different polyester fibers and textiles, as well as PET water bottles. All were found to “almost completely degrade” when faced with the new enzyme variant, known as FAST-PETase (ie, functional, active, stable and tolerant PETase), the authors said.  

The team employed a machine learning model to engineer five mutations to PETase, a natural enzyme which supports bacterial degradation of PET plastics. The scientists found that these mutations can quickly depolymerize post-consumer PET at low temperatures – between 30 and 50 degrees Celsius – and using a range of pH levels, it was found. Some PET products could even be fully broken down into monomers within 24 hours. 

The team now intends to scale up enzyme production, in preparation for the patent-pending technology’s intended industrial and environmental application, the university said. 


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