Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin have devised a means to break down plastics in just days, a feat that would otherwise take hundreds of years. The key to the discovery is an altered enzyme that causes the plastic material to depolymerize at a fast rate.
As published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, it explains how the finding was as a result of the use of machine learning in identifying mutations, leading to the fast-acting protein that causes the decomposition of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
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The study also highlights the problem with PET, which it claims accounts for 12 percent of global waste.
The university researchers have aptly dubbed their discovery as “FAST-PETase,” which is an acronym for “fast, active, stable, and tolerant PETase”.
While part of the highlight of the findings is indeed in how exponentially efficient the modified enzyme is in the process of plastic decomposition, it also emphasizes on its capability to recycle plastics, without losing the material’s original integrity.