IIT-R Researches Stumble Upon New Enzyme That Breaks Down Plastic Faster

IIT Roorkee Team

Roorkee: IIT Roorkee experts have discovered a 3D structure of a bacterial enzyme that can help break down plastic faster.

“The discovery will help in faster degradation of plastics and plasticisers, which are still considered non-biodegradable,” said professor Pravindra Kumar, who led the research with five associates at department of biosciences and bioengineering in IIT-Roorkee.

The findings will be published in the February edition of “Journal of Bacteriology”. Lauding the researchers, editor-in-chief of the journal, Dr George A O’Toole, who is also a professor of microbiology and immunology at Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth (US), termed the research paper “a very fine paper”.

Professor Kumar said the flexibility and durability of plastics are increased using phthalates. But these toxic chemicals are very harmful not only for humans but also for the environment. In the 90s, scientists across the globe, including Dr David Ballou from University of Michigan, started working on the discovery of microbes and enzymes that can eat these pollutants (phthalates). However, they could not achieve success.

“In 2016, we took up the challenge to determine the molecular structure of phthalate and these phthalate degrading enzymes. We found out that a bacterium, comamonas testosteroni KF1, degrades both phthalate and terephthalate in a very efficient way,” he added.

Subsequently, Kumar’s team identified all the enzymes responsible for phthalate and terephthalate degradation in this microbe. While these findings were encouraging, but with current global plastic pollution, the researchers concluded these pollutant degrading enzymes would need to be improved significantly via structure-based enzyme engineering.

“To check plastic pollution, we successfully determined the long-awaited molecular structure of the phthalate dioxygenase and terephthalate dioxygenase after years of persistent effort. We used X-ray crystallography to determine the molecular structure,” said 28-year-old Jai Krishna Mahto, another research scholar associated with the project.


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