Cleaning Up Our Planet – Through Physical Engineering of Bacterial Enzymes Capable of Degrading Plastics

Eating up the plastic waste through physically engineered bacterial enzymes.

The use of plastics has become indispensable all over the globe. The modern age has witnessed the usage of plastics in all industries and forty percent of plastic produced are of single usage. Though most of the single usage of plastics are only for few minutes to hours, they remain in the environment as dark material polluting the globe. The production and usage of plastics are always linear, produce, use, and waste. Only a small proportion of recyclable plastics are recycled, rest turn out to be landfills polluting the environment. Plastic pollution affects biodiversity by littering natural habitats, destroying wildlife, and contributing to climate change and an unsustainable world. It has been estimated that more than 26 million tons of plastic waste are dumped in the ocean, killing millions of marine creatures. Moreover, recent research has identified the presence of 2.5 microplastic particles on an average present in the consumed fishes, however these microplastics are neither felt or tasted during consumption.

In the past decade, scientists have identified certain bacterias viz, Ideonella sakaiensis, Pseudomonas putida, that can break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, which is commonly used in the production of plastic bottles and bags. Some of the key enzymes that this bacterium produces are PETase (Polyethylene Terephthalatease) and MHETase (Mono(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalic acid hydrolase), there were some attempts made to increase the catalytic activity and stability of these bacterial enzymes through site directed mutagenesis, which is not quite successful. At this juncture, this Sciathon project aims to tailor the bacterial enzyme to have enhanced catalytic activity and stability adapting thermodynamics properties of physics through molecular dynamic simulations and create a prototype for the commercial production of this tailored bacterial enzyme and to save the environment from the harmful effects of the landfilled plastic wastes, making plastic usage more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Group Leader

Surabhi Kandaswamy, Lindau Alumna 2018

University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom