Eureka! Scientists create plastic-eating mutant

Plastic world: Around 311 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, but only around 9% is recycled.

Do the biggest changes happen by accident? While investigating an enzyme that breaks down plastic, scientists mistakenly made it better. It could “help with society’s growing waste problem”.

What’s happening

“It was a bit of a shock,” said a scientist at the University of Portsmouth who may have accidentally solved the world’s plastic problem. His team was researching an enzyme that had developed the ability to break down plastic bottles. In the process, they inadvertently made it even more efficient.

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Around one million plastic bottles are sold every minute. This is having a devastating effect on the world’s oceans, as plastic can last for hundreds of years. However, this new enzyme starts breaking it down in just a few days, until it has returned to the oil it was originally made from.

“We can literally recycle it back to plastic,” said the scientist. That means more plastic can be made without digging up new oil. “It should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

It is not the first time something like this has happened. Pacemakers, Coca-Cola, Velcro, penicillin and X-rays were all discovered accidentally. Even plastic itself was the result of another invention going wrong.

Does the biggest progress always happen by chance?

Some say…

Yes! History has often been made thanks to small, accidental moments. Countless lives were saved by penicillin. Now environmental disaster may be averted thanks to a strange, mutant enzyme. When you think about it, this makes sense; most of the time, we do not know what we need until it arrives. It is hard to imagine something that does not exist.

Others think…

This is a nice idea. However, it is wrong to say that the biggest changes happen by chance. Most world-changing inventions are the result of enormous amounts of effort and very careful design. Think of how many people worked on getting humans to the Moon, for example. If you want to change the world, it is no use waiting for a happy accident.

You Decide

  1. Do the best things happen by chance?

Activities

  1. Think of a time in your life when something unexpected happened, and improved your day. Write down the memory, including what you thought would happen, what happened instead, and how it made you feel.

Some People Say...

“There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

Bob Ross

What do you think?

Word Watch

Enzyme
Proteins which speed up chemical reactions. In this case, the enzyme was found in a bug that had evolved to eat plastic.
Inadvertently
Accidentally.
Efficient
Something which achieves a task without wasting time.
Devastating
Destructive.
Pacemakers
A small device which can be inserted into someone’s chest to help their heart beat regularly.
Penicillin
A type of antibiotics. These help to fight infections in the body.

Subjects

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