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Plastic-Eating Enzyme Accidentally Developed By Scientists

Accidentally developed plastic-eating enzyme by the scientists to put a stop on plastic pollution problems

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Plastic pollution.
Pollution caused due to plastic. Pixabay
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Scientists have accidentally developed a plastic-eating enzyme that may be used to combat one of the world’s worst pollution problems, a media report said.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme found in a waste recycling centre a few years ago in Japan, CNN reported on Tuesday.

The finding was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They said the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, is able to “eat” polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which was patented as a plastic in the 1940s and is used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.

A scientist working with a microscope.
A Scientist. Pixabay

Their aim was to study its structure, but they accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics.

“We hoped to determine its structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics,” said NREL’s lead researcher Gregg Beckham.

The discovery could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles made of PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment, the University of Portsmouth said on its website.

“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception,” said Professor McGeehan, director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.

The enzyme can also degrade polyethylene furandicarboxylate, or PEF, a bio-based substitute for PET plastics that is being hailed as a replacement for glass beer bottles, CNN reported.

Also Read: Daylight Turns Plastic Sheet into Germ-Killing Material

PEF plastics, although bio-based, are not biodegradable, and would still end up as waste in landfills and in the seas, the NREL said.

According to a three-year study published in Scientific Reports last month, a huge, swirling pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is growing faster than expected and is now three times the size of France, more than double the size of Texas.  IANS

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Prenatal Exposure to Plastic Chemical may Reduce Cognitive Skills

As the mPFC is crucial for high-level cognitive functions, reduced cognitive flexibility is observed in developmental disorders such as autism

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The findings are important as humans may be regularly exposed to a variety of phthalates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals
The findings are important as humans may be regularly exposed to a variety of phthalates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Pixabay

Prenatal or early exposure of your kids to a plastic chemical may harm brain development as well as reduce cognitive function, a study says.

Phthalates — chemicals that belong to the same class as Bisphenol A (BPA) and used in food packaging and processing materials — can potentially interfere with hormones important for the developing brain.

The study by researchers including Janice Juraska, from the University of Illinois in the US, showed that rats’ prenatal and early exposure to phthalates was associated with smaller medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) — brain region responsible for deep and dreamless sleep.

They also performed poorly on an attention-switching task than those not exposed to the chemicals early in life.

As the mPFC is crucial for high-level cognitive functions, reduced cognitive flexibility is observed in developmental disorders such as autism
As the mPFC is crucial for high-level cognitive functions, reduced cognitive flexibility is observed in developmental disorders such as autism. Pixabay

The findings, published in Journal of Neuroscience, showed that perinatal phthalate exposure resulted in a reduction in neuron number, synapse number, size of the mPFC and a deficit in cognitive flexibility for both male and female adult offspring of these rats.

As the mPFC is crucial for high-level cognitive functions, reduced cognitive flexibility is observed in developmental disorders such as autism.

Also Read: thyroid Dysfunction May Lead to Diabetes During Pregnancy

The results show that perinatal phthalate exposure can have long-term effects on the cortex and behaviour of both male and female rats.

The findings are important as humans may be regularly exposed to a variety of phthalates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the researchers warned. (IANS)