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Enzyme created to break down plastics

Scientific discovery and discussion
ursaminortaur
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Enzyme created to break down plastics

#132779

Postby ursaminortaur » April 17th, 2018, 12:07 pm

It looks like plastic recycling may be about to get a bit easier.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientists-accidentally-create-mutant-enzyme-that-eats-plastic-bottles

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.
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“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

Slarti
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#132900

Postby Slarti » April 17th, 2018, 6:45 pm

I thought that they'd discovered it in Japan and "only" improved it http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43783631


Slarti

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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#132967

Postby Imbiber » April 18th, 2018, 7:52 am

Hope it doesn't get out of hand. Does anybody remember

Mutant 59 - The Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedlar, circa 1971/2 ?

vrdiver
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#132979

Postby vrdiver » April 18th, 2018, 9:28 am

Imbiber wrote:Hope it doesn't get out of hand. Does anybody remember

Mutant 59 - The Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedlar, circa 1971/2 ?

GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?

Watis
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#132991

Postby Watis » April 18th, 2018, 10:08 am

vrdiver wrote:
Imbiber wrote:Hope it doesn't get out of hand. Does anybody remember

Mutant 59 - The Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedlar, circa 1971/2 ?

GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?


Don't panic!

It'll be fine - an enzyme can't breed like plankton or whatever, and it's a reasonable assumption that it is destroyed by the process of breaking down plastic.

Unless anyone knows different . . .

Watis

vrdiver
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#133000

Postby vrdiver » April 18th, 2018, 10:44 am

Watis wrote:
vrdiver wrote:
Imbiber wrote:Hope it doesn't get out of hand. Does anybody remember

Mutant 59 - The Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedlar, circa 1971/2 ?

GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?


Don't panic!

It'll be fine - an enzyme can't breed like plankton or whatever, and it's a reasonable assumption that it is destroyed by the process of breaking down plastic.

Unless anyone knows different . . .

Watis

it was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but if a marine organism was engineered to produce the enzyme...
(oh, and enzymes aren't normally broken down during the process that they're active in - as their process efficiency is a function of them facilitating the same reaction over and over again. If their activity alters their environment (e.g. changes the pH) then they will come to a natural halt; hopefully the plastic-eating enzyme falls under that limitation!)

ursaminortaur
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#133058

Postby ursaminortaur » April 18th, 2018, 2:51 pm

vrdiver wrote:
Watis wrote:
vrdiver wrote:GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?


Don't panic!

It'll be fine - an enzyme can't breed like plankton or whatever, and it's a reasonable assumption that it is destroyed by the process of breaking down plastic.

Unless anyone knows different . . .

Watis

it was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but if a marine organism was engineered to produce the enzyme...
(oh, and enzymes aren't normally broken down during the process that they're active in - as their process efficiency is a function of them facilitating the same reaction over and over again. If their activity alters their environment (e.g. changes the pH) then they will come to a natural halt; hopefully the plastic-eating enzyme falls under that limitation!)



Well since the original unimproved enzyme was discovered in plastic eating bugs in a japanese dump evolution might well eventually produce organisms which dispose of plastics in a similar manner and at a similar rate to those which rot wood. As with painting exposed wood surfaces though we will probably find ways of protecting plastics so that they continue to have a useful working lifespan whilst allowing for their eventual decomposition.

Slarti
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#133202

Postby Slarti » April 19th, 2018, 9:42 am

Imbiber wrote:Hope it doesn't get out of hand. Does anybody remember

Mutant 59 - The Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedlar, circa 1971/2 ?


Was that the Doomwatch episode?

Slarti

vrdiver
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#133212

Postby vrdiver » April 19th, 2018, 10:12 am

FredBloggs wrote:I look forward to the day I can buy a packet of the magic enzyme to sprinkle over the various plastic devices that inconsiderate anti social people use in order to annoy me with. Just sprinkle the magic enzyme on the said device and watch it quickly dissolve into a very unpleasant gooey slime before my eyes. :lol:

Be careful you don't spill any of it on people who've had plastic surgery :o

stewamax
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#139337

Postby stewamax » May 16th, 2018, 11:05 am

... and watch with sadistic glee all the cheap poly-whatsit paddle-boats slowly sink with their young cargo in the Fun Pond at Kids Adventure Park.
Requiescat in Plastic.

UncleEbenezer
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#222184

Postby UncleEbenezer » May 16th, 2019, 5:37 pm

vrdiver wrote:GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?

Who needs GM?

There is currently a vacant ecological niche: something that can digest plastics. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something(s) will evolve perfectly naturally to fill that niche - though not necessarily before we've done a lot more damage to those oceans.

GM might accelerate the process, and provide a scapegoat for unforeseen side-effects.

That's a fundamental difference to burning organic and fossil material for energy, where it's the laws of physics we're up against. Least-bad we could hope for there is something that'll more intensely photosynthesise. And that'll look much nastier: maybe oceans filled with intense algal bloom might help the healing process once humanity has gone.

CryptoPlankton
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#222658

Postby CryptoPlankton » May 18th, 2019, 11:02 am

UncleEbenezer wrote:
vrdiver wrote:GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?

Who needs GM?

There is currently a vacant ecological niche...

That's right, pick on the bottom of the food chain as usual. Well, don't look at me. I've already seen friends with terrible indigestion after having a nibble on that stuff. Then they get blamed for poisoning the big buggers that come along and swallow them up without so much as a by-your-leave. No, life's hard enough thank you very much, you can sort out your own problems.

vrdiver
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Re: Enzyme created to break down plastics

#223101

Postby vrdiver » May 20th, 2019, 10:07 am

UncleEbenezer wrote:
vrdiver wrote:GM plankton: that'll sort out the ocean's plastic problem. What could possibly go wrong?

Who needs GM?

There is currently a vacant ecological niche: something that can digest plastics. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something(s) will evolve perfectly naturally to fill that niche - though not necessarily before we've done a lot more damage to those oceans.

GM might accelerate the process, and provide a scapegoat for unforeseen side-effects.

That's a fundamental difference to burning organic and fossil material for energy, where it's the laws of physics we're up against. Least-bad we could hope for there is something that'll more intensely photosynthesise. And that'll look much nastier: maybe oceans filled with intense algal bloom might help the healing process once humanity has gone.

(my bold/underline above)
Problem with algal blooms is that they de-oxygenate the water: pretty toxic to any life forms that need oxygen, so generally considered a bit of a disaster when they run amok. If our activities lead to "super blooms" it will further set back the other life we share this planet with, whether we are still here or not.

Oxygen users have made it higher up the ecological complexity scale than critters that don't need the stuff, so it would be a step back for evolution if global (at least for marine life; I haven't figured out what the impact would be on land based life if the marine ecology changed so dramatically, but I doubt it would be very pretty).

VRD


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