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Your daily roundup of research news

Science News Staff

Science Ticker


Science Ticker

This plastic-gobbling enzyme just got an upgrade

Scientists’ tweak led to more breakdown of plastics found in polyester and plastic bottles

pile of plastic trash

TRASH STASH  Scientists have modified a bacterial enzyme to make it even better at breaking down PET, a plastic widely used in disposable water bottles.

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Just a few tweaks to a bacterial enzyme make it a lean, mean plastic-destroying machine.

One type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is widely used in polyester clothing and disposable bottles and is notoriously persistent in landfills. In 2016, Japanese scientists identified a new species of bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, which has a specialized enzyme that can naturally break down PET.

Now, an international team of researchers studying the enzyme’s structure has created a variant that’s even more efficient at gobbling plastic, the team reports April 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists used a technique called X-ray crystallography to examine the enzyme’s structure for clues to its plastic-killing abilities. Then, they genetically tweaked the enzyme to create small variations in the structure, and tested those versions for PET-degrading performance. Some changes made the enzyme work even better. Both the original version and the mutated versions could break down both PET and another, newer bio-based plastic called PEF, short for polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate. With a little more engineering, these enzymes could someday feast at landfills.

Exoplanets

NASA’s TESS spacecraft launches to begin its exoplanet search

By Lisa Grossman 7:36pm, April 18, 2018
After reaching its orbit in about two months, the telescope will start scanning nearby stars telltale dips in light that signal a passing planet.
Astronomy

Delayed launch of NASA’s next exoplanet hunter is now set for tonight

By Lisa Grossman 2:53pm, April 16, 2018
NASA’s next exoplanet hunter, TESS, launches today to seek planets in 85 percent of the sky.
Animals,, Physics

In a colony, king penguins behave like molecules in a 2-D liquid

By Dan Garisto 12:03pm, April 6, 2018
Positions of king penguins in a breeding colony resemble molecules in a 2-D liquid.
Biomedicine,, Health

A new coronavirus is killing pigs in China

By Helen Thompson 1:00pm, April 4, 2018
Genetic evidence identifies a previously unknown coronavirus that’s causing problems in pigs.
Astronomy

A Chinese space station will fall to Earth this weekend

By Lisa Grossman 8:00am, March 30, 2018
The Chinese space agency’s first space station is coming back to Earth this weekend. It probably won’t cause damage, but it will cause fireworks.
Science & Society

New spending bill mostly boosts money for science research

By Emily DeMarco 6:35pm, March 23, 2018
Here’s a quick look at how science agencies fared in the newly passed spending package.
Genetics,, Anthropology

Atacama mummy’s deformities were unduly sensationalized

By Dan Garisto 2:54pm, March 22, 2018
A malformed human mummy known as Ata has been sensationalized as alien. A DNA analysis helps overturn that misconception.
Technology,, Artificial Intelligence,, Science & Society

First pedestrian death from a self-driving car fuels safety debate

By Dan Garisto 6:24pm, March 19, 2018
A self-driving Uber kills woman in Arizona in the first fatal pedestrian strike by an autonomous car.
Earth

Critter-finding mission to Antarctica’s Larsen C iceberg scrapped

By Carolyn Gramling 7:00am, March 3, 2018
Thick sea ice ended a rapid-response mission to study seafloor that lay beneath Larsen C iceberg.
Animals

Penguin supercolony discovered in Antarctica

By Katy Daigle 6:26pm, March 2, 2018
Scientists have found a penguin supercolony living on tiny, remote Antarctic islands.
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