SciLifeLab researchers have developed new designer enzymes capable of breaking down synthetic plastic oligomers with tough backbones. This is a huge first step in dealing with the 7.5 billion tons of plastic that still remains unrecycled.
The plastic problem has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges that our society is facing today. For example, it has recently been predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. Up to now, roughly 7.5 billion tons of plastics remains unrecycled, mainly due to associated unresolved technical challenges.
In a recent study, published in RSC Advances and led by Per-Olof Syrén (SciLifeLab/KTH), researchers were trying to find a biotechnological solution to the plastic problem by using designer enzymes, developed at SciLifeLab in Solna. The enzymes were found to be active on synthetic plastic oligomers with tough backbones.
“Generation of designer enzymes active towards man-made inert synthetic polymers not currently recognized as substrates by natural enzymes would have an immense industrial and environmental impact,” says Per-Olof Syrén.