Cleaning up pollution with enzymes

We’re developing enzymes that reduce environmental contamination by detoxifying polluting chemicals.

The Challenge

Environmental contamination from organic chemicals

Organic chemicals are used across a wide range of industries. They’re used as pesticides, as solvents essential for manufacturing the plastics, packaging, drugs and other chemicals we use every day, and in explosives used in mining.

However, in some cases, these chemicals enter the environment and become pollutants, causing environmental and human health issues.

Our Response

Enzymatic detoxification

Our scientists are working on ways to detoxify organic pollutants before then enter the environment, using enzymes from bacteria. This is called bioremediation.

Application of triazine-degrading enzyme to a contaminated dam

Some bacteria break down organic pollutants, usually as a source of nutrients or energy. We isolate those bacteria and identify which enzyme is responsible for breaking down the pollutant. We then engineer the enzyme in the lab, so that it is more effective in detoxifying contaminants.

Enzymes have many advantages as bioremediants: they are specific (only targeting particular chemicals), fast, non-toxic and biodegradable.

We have developed enzymatic bioremediants for pesticides (e.g. organophosphates, triazines, fungicidal carbamates, synthetic pyrethroids) and explosives (e.g. dinitroanisole).

The Results

Proven bioremediation technology

We have run successful field trials for a number of our enzymes, including our organophosphate-degrading enzyme and our triazine-degrading enzyme.

For both enzymes we are able to degrade contaminants over a period of minutes to hours (depending on dose rate). Other bioremediation methods, using whole organisms, operate over a much longer time scale (weeks to months).

We have developed a number of patent estates covering the use of our enzymes in bioremediation applications, and are now looking for commercial partners to take the technology to market and to explore other potential application areas, including personal protection, produce washing and soil treatment.

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