Tuesday November 12, 2019

Plastics Can Be Eaten By Enzymes And Reduce Pollution

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate

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Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried into a depot before being pulverized as part of a recycling process at Tokyo PET Bottle Recycle Co. in Tokyo, Aug. 13, 2002. Researchers in Britain and the United States have engineered an enzyme that breaks down such plastics.
Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried.VOA

Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could help in the fight against pollution.

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET — a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tons of plastic bottles. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. 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 waste-recycling center in Japan.

Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers decided to “tweak” its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme’s actions — allowing its plastic-eating abilities to work faster.

“We’ve made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already,” McGeehan told Reuters in an interview.

“That’s really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimize the enzyme even further.”

The team, whose finding was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, is now working on improving the enzyme further to see if it could be capable of breaking down PET plastics on an industrial scale.

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution, Pixabay

“It’s well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other [plastics], back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled,” McGeehan said.

‘Strong potential’

Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said it was exciting, but cautioned that the enzyme’s development as a potential solution for pollution was still at an early stage.

“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” said Oliver Jones, a Melbourne University chemistry expert. “There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics.”

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work “should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further.”

Also read: Ayushmann Khurana speaks against plastic pollution

“All told, this advance brings the goal of sustainably recyclable polymers significantly closer,” he added. (VOA)

Next Story

Study Associates Air Pollution With Heart Attack

Research says that air pollution in India causes cardiovascular diseases

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People in India are at a risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to the air pollution. Pixabay

Researchers conducting a study in a periurban area in southern India have found that air pollution in the country is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

The study shows that people most exposed to fine particles have a higher CIMT index (carotid intima-media thickness) — a marker of atherosclerosis — which means they are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as stroke or heart attack.

“Our findings highlight the need to perform more studies on air pollution in low- and middle-income countries, since the conclusions may differ considerably from studies in high income countries due to differences in population characteristics and air pollution levels and sources,” said researcher Cathryn Tonne from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). It was published in the journal International Journal of Epidemiology.

Previous studies indicate that inflammation and atherosclerosis are most likely responsible for the association between long-term exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular disease and mortality.

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The research team picked India, a lower middle income country with high levels of air pollution. Pixabay

For the findings, the research team picked India, a lower middle income country with high levels of air pollution.

The study was performed with 3,372 participants from a periurban region of Hyderabad, Telangana, in southern India.

The research team measured CIMT and estimated exposure to air pollution using an algorithm called land use regression (LUR) frequently used to predict the amount of fine particles (suspended particles with a diameter under 2.5 µm) in high-income countries.

The participants also provided information on the type of cooking fuel they used.

The results indicate that high annual exposure to ambient fine particles was associated with a higher CIMT, particularly in men, participants above 40 years of age, or those with cardiometabolic risk factors.

Sixty per cent of participants used biomass cooking fuel.

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The country is affected by high levels of air pollution, both ambient and indoors. Pixabay

“people using biomass fuel for cooking had a higher CIMT, particularly women who cooked in unventilated spaces.” In addition, “women had a higher CIMT than men, which could be due to the fact that they spend more time in the kitchen, breathing air polluted by biomass fuel,” study first author Otavio Ranzani, explained.

According to the study, annual average exposure to PM2.5 was 32,7 µg/m3, far above the maximum levels recommended by the WHO (10 µg/m3).

Also Read- Study Reveals That Plants and Trees are Effective Options to Curb Air Pollution

“This study is relevant for countries which, like India, are experiencing a rapid epidemiological transition and a sharp increase in the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” Tonne said.

“In addition, the country is affected by high levels of air pollution, both ambient and indoors,” Tonne added. (IANS)