Researchers at MIT have developed a new enzyme structure for biodegradable plastics. The enzyme can reportedly produce hard or soft plastics depending on the feedstock materials used. The researchers hope, by studying the molecular structure of the enzyme, they can move toward commercial production of plastics that should be biodegradable. Though the enzyme, polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) synthase, isn’t new, it has previously been difficult to study because of its reluctance to crystalize. But, graduated students Marco Jost and Yifeng Wei, co-authors of the paper, managed to crystalize the enzyme before passing the crystals on to Elizabeth Wittenborn, graduate student and lead author, to collect and analyze crystallographic data which lead to the new enzyme structure. The paper was recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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