Scientists in Britain and the United States have designed a substance that eats plastic. They believe that, in the future, it could help reduce pollution.

    The enzyme is able to break down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. This form of plastic was patented in the 1940s. It is now used in millions of metric tons of plastic bottles.

    PET plastics can remain in the environment for hundreds of years. The plastics pollute large areas of land and water around the world.

    Researchers from Britain's University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory made the discovery. They did so while examining the structure of a natural enzyme that is thought to have evolved in a waste recycling center in Japan.

    John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth, co-led the work. He said the researchers found that the natural enzyme was helping a bacteria break down PET plastic. So, the researchers decided to make small changes to its structure by adding some amino acids.
    朴茨茅斯大学教授约翰·麦吉汉(John McGeehan)共同领导了这项研究。他说,研究人员发现这种天然酶能帮助细菌分解PET塑料。所以研究人员决定通过添加一些氨基酸对其结构进行细微调整。

    This led to a valuable change in the enzyme's actions. It made the enzyme's plastic-eating abilities work more quickly.

    "We've made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already," McGeehan told the Reuters news service. He added that it may be possible for them to make more improvements to it in the future.

    The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the team's findings earlier this month.

    The team is now trying to make it possible for the enzyme to be able to break down much larger amounts of PET plastics.

    McGeehan said, "It's well within the possibility that, in the coming years, we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other (plastics), back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled."

    Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said the discovery was interesting. But they warned that the enzyme's development as a possible solution for pollution was still in the early stages.

    Oliver Jones is a chemistry expert at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. He told Reuters that enzymes are not harmful to humans and other animals. They easily break down in natural conditions. Also, extremely small organisms can produce them in large amounts.
    奥利弗·琼斯(Oliver Jones)是皇家墨尔本理工大学的化学专家。他对路透社表示,酶对人类和其它动物无害。它们很容易在自然状态下分解。而且,极其微小的生物体就能产生大量的酶。

    "There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics," Jones said.

    Douglas Kell is a professor of biological science at Manchester University. He said further rounds of work "should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further."
    道格拉斯·凯尔(Douglas Kell)是曼彻斯特大学的生物学教授。他表示,未来一系列研究应该有望对这种酶做出进一步改进。

    He added that the discovery brings the goal of creating manmade, sustainably recyclable chemical substances much closer to reality.

    I'm Pete Musto.