Molecular scissors for plastic waste
Plastics are wonderful materials and also widely used within the cosmetics industry. Plastics are extremely versatile and almost eternally durable. But exactly this is a problem, because after only about 100 years of plastics production, plastic particles are now found everywhere: in groundwater, in the oceans, in the air and in the food chain. Only a tiny fraction of plastics is currently being recycled. The recylcling processes are still quite energy- and cost-intensive. PET is an important industrial plastic, of which approximately 50 million tons are produced every year.
Now a team from the University of Greifswald and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB), Germany has deciphered the structure of an important enzyme (“MHETase”) that together with a second enzyme, (PETase) is able to decompose the widely used plastic PET into its basic building blocks. These enzymes may act as a molecualr scissor for plastic waste. The results were published in “Nature Communications” (DOI 10.1038/s41467-019-09326-3.)