They create artificial protein capable of degrading plastic

Isbel Lázaro.

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proteína artificial

Inspenet, November 4, 2023.

A group of scientists from the Institute of Catalysis and Petroleochemistry of the CSIC, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Complutense University of Madrid have introduced an innovative artificial protein with the ability to degrade microplastics made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is one of the most common types of plastic in containers and bottles. This study has been published in the journal Nature Catalysis

Using advanced computational techniques, researchers have given the strawberry anemone defense protein Actinia fragacea the ability to filter and decompose PET microplastics. “What we do is something like adding new plugins to a multipurpose tool to provide it with other different functionalities.“explained Víctor Guallar, ICREA professor at the BSC-CNS and one of those responsible for the project.

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The artificial protein created exhibits a structure that is similar to the PETase enzyme found in the bacteria Idionella sakaiensis, which is known for its ability to decompose polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics.

Best of all, the new protein can operate at room temperature, eliminating the emission of high levels of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) associated with other degradation methods that require higher temperatures. Furthermore, its pore structure allows it to be used in the form of filters, which makes it suitable for application in desalination plants and treatment plants.

Along these lines, scientists have designed two variants of the protein, depending on the places in which they incorporated the new amino acids. “One variant breaks down PET particles more thoroughly, so it could be used for degradation in wastewater treatment plants. The other gives rise to the initial components needed for recycling. In this way, we can purify or recycle, according to needs.”explains Laura Fernández López, who is carrying out her doctoral thesis at the Institute of Catalysis and Petroleum Chemistry of the CSIC (ICP-CSIC).

Notably, the data provided by Professor Guallar suggests that the newly developed protein has the ability to break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) microplastics and nanoplastics with “an efficiency between five and ten times greater than that of PETases currently on the market and at room temperature”.

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