Skip to main content

Mutant bacterial enzyme can break down plastic bottles in just hours

Scientists have discovered a mutant bacterial enzyme that is able to break down plastic bottles for recycling within just a few hours.

In a proof of concept demonstration, the enzyme was used to break down a ton of waste plastic bottles to the point where they were 90% degraded in only 10 hours, according to a paper recently published in the journal Nature.

Research into the enzyme dates back to 2012, when its properties were discovered in a screening of 100,000 microorganisms.

Carbios, the green chemistry company behind this development, hopes to achieve industrial-scale recycling in five years. To do this, it’s teamed up with companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to speed up the process. It has also struck a deal with biotech company Novozymes to produce the new enzyme at scale. This will be carried out using fungi in the mass-production process.

The most exciting part of the breakthrough isn’t just the speed at which the enzyme can break down plastic bottles. The mutant enzyme actually breaks plastic down in such a way that it can be recycled into new high-quality water bottles. This is a significant advance on the lower-quality plastic that results from current recycling techniques.

“Present estimates suggest that of the 359 million tons of plastics produced annually worldwide, 150 to 200 million tons accumulate in landfill or in the natural environment,” the researchers write in a paper describing the work.

The researchers hope this approach could be used to help reverse this alarming statistic by making it easy to recycle the polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and reduce waste.

PET is the world’s most common thermoplastic polymer and is used to manufacture bottles, polyester clothing fibers, food containers, assorted packaging, and much more. Figuring out a way to better recycle it won’t end plastic pollution altogether. But if this approach can be scaled as claimed, researchers believe it could turn out to be a massive game-changer for all involved. And, you know, planet Earth along with it.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
The iPhone 16 Pro Max may get a very important battery upgrade
An iPhone 15 Pro Max laying face-down outside, showing the Natural Titanium color.

iPhone 16 dummy models Sonny Dickson / X

The iPhone 16 still has many months to go before its anticipated announcement in the fall, but we’ve already gotten a slew of rumors, leaks, and speculation about its specs and capabilities. One of the latest rumors about the iPhone 16 Pro Max comes from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and it regards a new battery Apple is putting into the device.

Read more
Apple may release a completely new type of iPhone in 2025
iPhone 15 Pro Max laying outside in a park.

The iPhone 16 isn’t even out yet, but that hasn’t stopped rumors about the iPhone 17 from swirling already. One of the latest comes from The Information, and it claims that a thinner iPhone 17 may be released in 2025 as a completely new addition to the lineup. It’s reported to be code-named D23 internally, and it’s expected to be a major redesign — potentially as big of a redesign as the iPhone X was in 2017.

The main changes for the D23 iPhone are a very thin body and a smaller cutout in the display. There’s also some talk that Apple may replace the Dynamic Island with a pinhole cutout, and we may see that as soon as the anticipated iPhone 16 launch this fall. Other changes might include moving the rear camera from the upper-left corner to the top center. The screen could fall somewhere between the 6.1 inches of the iPhone 16 Pro and 6.9 inches of the iPhone 16 Pro Max.

Read more
A ‘healthy’ PC means using Bing, according to Microsoft
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 sitting on a table.

Microsoft hasn't been shy about pushing first-party services and apps in Windows, but this time, it's getting a little ridiculous. As reported by Windows Latest, the Microsoft application PC Manager claims you can "fix" your computer simply by changing Bing to be the default search engine.

The change was spotted when using the Edge browser and having, for example, Google as the default search engine. After you run a health check, one of the suggested changes will be to set Bing as your default search engine. If that's how you want to go, there's a button to make it happen.

Read more