Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase

Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous in the modern world but pose a global environmental problem. While plastics such as poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) are highly versatile, their resistance to natural degradation presents a serious, growing risk to fauna and flora, particularly in marine environments. Here, we have characterized the 3D structure of a newly discovered enzyme that can digest highly crystalline PET, the primary material used in the manufacture of single-use plastic beverage bottles, in some clothing, and in carpets. We engineer this enzyme for improved PET degradation capacity and further demonstrate that it can also degrade an important PET replacement, polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate, providing new opportunities for biobased plastics recycling.

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