The discovery could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles, made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment.
Researchers at University of Portsmouth and the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US decoded the crystal structure of PETase - a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET - and used this 3D information to understand how it works.
"Few could have predicted that since plastics became popular in the 1960s huge plastic waste patches would be found floating in oceans, or washed up on once pristine beaches all over the world," said John McGeehan from University of Portsmouth.
"We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these 'wonder-materials', must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions," said
The researchers made the breakthrough when they were examining the structure of a natural enzyme which is thought to have evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan, allowing a bacterium to degrade plastic as a food source.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)