The world produces around 400m tonnes of plastic waste each year. Much of it ends up in landfills; a significant portion is polluting the world’s oceans. Conventional plastic recycling only degrades the material – in fact, most plastic items never fully disappear.
While we can attempt to reduce our dependence on plastic, industries like food and medicine can’t simply replace it. Scientists like John McGeehan, Rosie Graham, and their colleagues at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, are developing a different solution: a fully circular plastic economy, using enzymes to break plastic polymers down so they can be 100% recycled back to their initial state – or even upcycling degraded material back to the quality of virgin plastic.
Here, John and Rosie explain how a chance email to the AlphaFold team has accelerated this work.