London, Apr 17: Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.
The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug, according to a report carried by The Guardian.
The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”
The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.
“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” said McGeehan. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest parts, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood. “It is incredibly resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific,” said McGeehan. “It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well.”
However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be turned into opaque fibres for clothing or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a way to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.
“You are always up against the fact that oil is cheap, so virgin PET is cheap,” said McGeehan. “It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even try to recycle. 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.”
The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, began by determining the precise structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10bn times brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.
The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to explore this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.
“It is a modest improvement – 20% better – but that is not the point,” said McGeehan. “It’s incredible because it tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.”
Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 times faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
One possible improvement being explored is to transplant the mutant enzyme into an “extremophile bacteria” that can survive temperatures above the 70C melting point of PET – the plastic is likely to degrade 10-100 times faster when molten.
Earlier work had shown that some fungi can break down PET plastic, which makes up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.
Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said: “People are now searching vigorously for those.” 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.
“I think [the new research] is very exciting work, showing there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem,” said Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.
“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” he said. “There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable. [But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction.”
Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, agreed the enzyme could be useful but added: “A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem – waste – at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions.”
New party in the offing: Faesal wants public money for ‘clean politics’
Srinagar, Jan 23: Former IAS officer Shah Faesal Wednesday launched a crowd-funding campaign for “clean politics and corruption-free administration” in Jammu and Kashmir hinting towards his plans to float his own political party.
The 2010-batch topper of the UPSC civil services exam said it was a “people’s movement for change”.
“Be a part of this journey for clean politics and corruption-free administration in J&K. Support Shah Faesal with your small donations,” he tweeted.
Faesal, who resigned from government service earlier this month, gave a bank account number for contributions and said payments could also be made through e-wallet.
Taking to a social networking site Facebook, Faesal wrote: “I had never imagined that my small act of defiance to highlight political deadlock in Jammu and Kashmir would evoke such a response across the world.”
He added that he had never thought that his “dream of clean politics and corruption-free administration” in J&K would take the shape of a “public movement”. “Respecting the public sentiment, I have decided to chart my independent political journey. And now in this new phase of public service, my mission is to support the true cause of humanity, stand up for the poor, marginalized and dispossessed and speak up for injustices, wherever in this world, irrespective of caste, colour, region, and religion,” he wrote.
Faesal said he imagined a politics where youth can “lead the change and take charge of their future”.“I wish to partner with a new generation of young leaders who can stand up for human rights, environment, free speech and rule of law. My idea is to seek help from the people of India, build alliances with the Indian civil society and intellectual class to humanize the narrative around Kashmir conflict so that lasting peace can be achieved in J&K State.”
He added that his “mission” was to “truthfully represent aspirations, culture, fears, and dreams” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, across the world.“I wish to facilitate dialogue between people of various regions of the State – Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Pir Panchal, and Chenab Valley so that an environment of amity and brotherhood can be built. I believe that development and dignity must go together, and we have to work together for giving a sense of security, better education, healthcare, livelihoods, electricity and other civic amenities to people of J&K State.”
“This is a people’s movement and it will be funded by the people. People are the only agencies who will help this succeed. Believe in me, be patient with me in this long and difficult journey and donate for this cause,” he wrote.
Earlier Faesal had resigned dubbing it as protest against “unabated killings in Kashmir, and lack of any sincere reach-out from the Union government; the marginalisation and invisiblisation of around 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second-class citizens; insidious attacks on the special identity of J&K and growing culture of intolerance and hate in mainland India in the name of hypernationalism”.
While he has made it clear that he would like to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Faesal has not joined any political party so far. Speculation is rife that he might float a new political outfit.
Priyanka Gandhi debuts in active politics: Mehbooba dubs her ‘X factor of 2019 polls’
New Delhi, Jan 23: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has finally taken the plunge into politics, just months ahead of the national election due by May.
Often dubbed the “Brahmastra” or the mythical ultimate weapon of the Congress, Priyanka will debut as the party’s general secretary in charge of the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, which pitches her against the ruling BJP’s top two mascots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi–whose constituency Varanasi will be in her share–and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
“I have not sent Priyanka and Jyotiraditya for just two months. I have sent them to take the Congress’ ideology forward in Uttar Pradesh,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters.
Among many noted personalities congratulating Priyanka was former J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, who tweeted: “Welcome Priyanka Gandhi to the rough and tumble of politics. She brings with her the grace of Gandhi Nehru lineage and her immense personal charm. Wish her the best. Could she become the Xfactor of 2019 poll battle?”
47-year-old Priyanka, who reminds many of her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for both her charisma and the stunning likeness, is seen as a natural in politics but she has confined herself to the constituencies of her brother Rahul and mother Sonia Gandhi–Amethi and Raebareli–till now.
In national and state elections since 2004, the mother-of-two has campaigned exhaustively in the family seats where the Gandhis enjoy almost royal status.
Reports say her appointment to a key position reflects the Congress’s realisation that in a politically vital state like Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 parliamentary seats and is considered the route to power at the centre, the party needs to up its game and cannot afford just one in-charge. It is a huge gamble for the Congress, a sign that the party is all for aggressively taking on PM Modi and the BJP in the coming election.
The Congress dropped the Priyanka bombshell in the third para of a press statement that also announced that Jyotiraditya Scindia will be in charge of western UP. The giant announcement came as Rahul Gandhi began a two-day visit to Amethi. Priyanka Gandhi is in New York and is expected to return on February 1.
Congress leaders say Priyanka Gandhi’s arrival in party politics will galvanise the ranks that have been demoralised by the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav move to form an alliance in UP for the national election without the Congress, which has been pitching for a grand opposition alliance to take on the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi commented that the BJP was “panicking”.
The ruling party has been repeatedly targeting Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra, a businessman being investigated for allegedly corrupt land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan. Robert Vadra congratulated his wife in a Facebook post: “Congratulations P… always by your side in every phase of your life.”
In national and state elections since 2004, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has campaigned in the family seats where the Gandhis enjoy almost royal status.
Priyanka Gandhi was always active in decision-making and played a key role in the alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election. She also reportedly oversaw the party meeting in which her older brother was crowned Congress president.
The BJP shrugged off the Congress announcement. “Rahul Gandhi failed so they need Priyanka as a crutch. Can’t they find anyone beyond that family?” sneered BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.
Srinagar-Jammu Highway still closed
Jammu, Jan 23: A massive snow-clearance operation was underway to restore the 270-km Jammu-Srinagar Highway which remained closed for vehicular traffic for the third consecutive day Wednesday, officials said.
The snow clearance operation on both sides of the Jawahar Tunnel–the gateway to Kashmir–was started and the snow-clearance operation is going on in full swing, said Deputy Superintendent of Police, Traffic Highway, Pardeep Singh Sen.
An avalanche had also struck the Jawahar Tunnel area on Tuesday, blocking both tubes on Qazigund side.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which maintains the Jawahar tunnel stretch of the highway, pressed its men and machines to clear the road of the accumulated snow on Tuesday, Sen said.
“We are expecting the highway to be open for traffic by late afternoon. However, only the stranded vehicles will be allowed to move on the highway once we get the green signal,” he said.
Hundreds of vehicles, mostly trucks, are stranded at various places along the highway, the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with rest of the country, officials said.
They said the road from Banihal, which recorded over two and a half feet of snow, to Jawahar tunnel was also being cleared, while the Banihal-Ramban stretch is almost clear after agencies concerned removed minor landslides and stones which came down at different places due to incessant rains.
After three-day long wet spell across Kashmir, the weather showed improvement with local meteorological department forecasting dry weather till January 29.
The three-day-long wet spell ended across the Valley today. The MeT department had predicted improvement in the weather conditions from Tuesday evening.
The local Meteorological department said that there is no forecast of rain or snowfall across the Valley till January 29 here, saying that the weather would remain cloudy on Jan 25.