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The steady growth in industrial production of synthetic plastics and their limited recycling have resulted in severe environmental pollution and contribute to global warming and oil depletion. Currently, there is an urgent need to develop efficient plastic recycling technologies to prevent further environmental pollution and recover chemical feedstocks for polymer re-synthesis and upcycling in a circular economy. Enzymatic depolymerization of synthetic polyesters by microbial carboxylesterases provides an attractive addition to existing mechanical and chemical recycling technologies due to enzyme specificity, low energy consumption, and mild reaction conditions. Carboxylesterases constitute a diverse group of serine-dependent hydrolases catalysing the cleavage and formation of ester bonds. However, the stability and hydrolytic activity of identified natural esterases towards synthetic polyesters are usually insufficient for applications in industrial polyester recycling. This necessitates further efforts on the discovery of robust enzymes, as well as protein engineering of natural enzymes for enhanced activity and stability. In this essay, we discuss the current knowledge of microbial carboxylesterases that degrade polyesters (polyesterases) with focus on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is one of the five major synthetic polymers. Then, we briefly review the recent progress in the discovery and protein engineering of microbial polyesterases, as well as developing enzyme cocktails and secreted protein expression for applications in the depolymerisation of polyester blends and mixed plastics. Future research aimed at the discovery of novel polyesterases from extreme environments and protein engineering for improved performance will aid developing efficient polyester recycling technologies for the circular plastics economy


  • extremophiles, extremophilic, extremozymes, plastic, Polyesters, polyesterases, thermophiles, Biotechnology
Original languageEnglish
Article numberEBC20220255
Pages (from-to)715-729
Number of pages15
JournalEssays in Biochemistry
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

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