Scientists Characterize The ‘Molecular Scissors’ To Break Down PET Plastic Waste

Source: Association of German Research Centres

Photo: Serenity Mitchell/Unsplash


A research team from the University of Greifswald and Helmholtz-Zentrum-Berlin (HZB) has solved the molecular structure of the enzyme MHETase at BESSY II. MHETase was discovered in bacteria, and together with a second enzyme, PETase, is able to break down the widely used plastic PET into its basic building blocks. This 3D structure already allowed the researchers to produce a MHETase variant with optimized activity in order to use it, together with PETase, for a sustainable recycling of PET.

Plastics are extremely versatile and almost eternally durable. But this is also a problem, because after only about 100 years of producing plastics, plastic particles are now found everywhere—in groundwater, in the oceans, in the air, and in the food chain. Around 50 million tonnes of the industrially important polymer PET are produced every year. Just a tiny fraction of plastic is currently recycled via expensive and energy-consuming processes that yield either downgraded products or depend in turn on adding ‘fresh’ crude oil.

In 2016, a group of Japanese researchers discovered a bacterium that grows on PET and partially feeds on it.

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Photo: Serenity Mitchell/Unsplash

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