But in a new twist, British and American scientists have announced that while studying this bacteria, they accidentally created a mutant enzyme that's even more efficient at breaking down plastic bottles.
They and Gregg Beckham are among the worldwide team of researchers who are working to further improve the enzyme to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.
But they ended up accidentally engineering a "mutant" version of the enzyme that's even better at degrading PET plastic than the natural version found in the Japanese recycling center.
The breakthrough is the latest in a series of tantalizing research results hinting that certain enzymes and microbes that use them might pave a way to degrade mountains of plastics scrap. But I believe there is a public driver here: "perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these".
A high definition 3D model of the enzyme was created, using the powerful x-ray beamline at Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire.
It was discovered that this bacteria could break down or digest PET plastics.
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She says the six kids were regularly punished for common childlike and adolescent behavior, such as laughing too loudly. The crash scene, about 322 km north of San Francisco, was discovered by a passing motorist on March 26.
The switch to PET was never the less "quite unexpected" and an global team of scientists set out to determine how the PETase enzyme had evolved. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and now pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.
The findings of the team were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The Portsmouth University team, and their collaborators, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, have since filed for a patent. PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating bugs might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.
"What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock", said lead researcher John McGeehan, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
"Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms", said Oliver Jones, a expert in analytical chemistry at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University.
While the invention of highly durable plastics has had positive impacts for humankind's quality of life, it's that very durability that is causing the plastics pollution problem.
He also said, "There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics".