• Patrick I. Burks

Scientists Accidentally Create New Mutant Enzyme

A French green chemistry company was looking to reduce the Earth's carbon footprint by creating a means to effectively discard the unusable elements and chemicals of plastic that are left behind following recycling. Scientists have created a mutant bacterial enzyme that not only breaks down plastic bottles in hours, but the leftover material is good enough to be recycled into high-quality new bottles. The existing technology of recycling only produces a grade of recycled plastic that can be used for certain items, like sweaters, sleeping bags, jacket insulation and even carpets, but nothing clean enough to reuse for consumer grade food products. However, the optimized enzyme – that was first discovered in a compost heap of leaves eight years ago – was able to reduce the plastic bottles to simple chemical elements that can be efficiently reprocessed into new, food-grade plastic.

The Problem At Hand:

Plastic water and soft drink bottles are made from a petroleum product called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires giant amounts of fossil fuels to make and transport. The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s slightly more than it would take to fill one million cars a year with fuel.


According to the EPA, Americans recycle less than 10 percent of the plastics they've used. This isn't just down to laziness, many plastics simply cannot be effectively recycled. Even the most suitable plastic is only recycled at a rate of 20-30%, with the rest typically going to incinerators or landfills, where the carbon-rich material takes up to 1,000 years to decompose. As it does, toxins leak into the environment and can cause a variety of health issues, including reproductive problems and cancer.

The Mutant Enzyme Solution:

The French scientists behind the accidental discovery; work in the industrial development phase; and design and develop innovative enzymatic processes to rethink the life cycle of plastics. By combining enzymology and plastics, an innovative industrial approach, by revolutionizing the treatment of plastic waste and the production of bio-polymers. The optimized enzyme in which is responsible for this process was originally discovered in a pile of compost/leaves that were undergoing the natural process of decomposition, contaminates from this compost made their way onto the testing petri-dishes which were undergoing examination. Following the observation with the compost materials mixed with batches of chemicals, scientists realized that this combination is hopeful in regards to accomplishing their goal. After some tweaking of the genetic makeup of this natural enzyme, and following numerous failed attempts to dissolve polyethylene-terephthalate, scientists were finally able to add the right chemicals in order to give specific characteristics such as rigidity or flexibility and color, the tests and research had proven to be successful.

Following the testing of the new enzyme, and getting the formulas down-pact, the mutated enzyme has proven that in optimal conditions it has the ability to deconstruct 90% of polyethylene-terephthalate in less than 10-hrs. Conducted studies have yet to show if there are any negative or unsafe implications by using this modified and chemically mutated enzyme, but the environmental implications of utilizing this enzyme are indeed promising.

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