Scientists at the Materials Research Centre (MRC), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), have developed a new type of enzyme mimetic NanoPtA that can effectively degrade toxic chemicals in industrial wastewater in sunlight.
Nano-sized enzyme mimetics or "nanozymes" manufactured in the lab can mimic such natural enzymes and overcome these practical challenges.
In the current study, the IISc team synthesised a platinum-containing enzyme called NanoPtA, which can be converted into powder form for industrial use. It mimics the function of oxidases – natural enzymes that remove hydrogen from substrates in the presence of oxygen to give water.
This nanoenzyme is not only highly specific in breaking down certain substrates but is also robust because it can withstand a range of pH and temperature changes.
- The enzyme can then degrade pollutants present in wastewater by oxidising them in the presence of sunlight, thereby reducing the toxicity of wastewater.
- The nanozyme affects common effluents that pollute water, like phenols and dyes. They found it could degrade even small (micromolar) quantities of phenols and dyes within ten minutes when placed under sunlight.
- The nanozyme is not only useful for breaking down toxic pollutants but can also have applications in healthcare.
- This is important because these neurotransmitters are associated with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiac arrest.
- Measuring these neurotransmitters using such nanozymes can be a useful diagnostic tool for neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.
- The researchers found that the NanoPtA complex was quite stable, lasting for up to 75 days at room temperature.
- Proteins are generally stored at -20°C or 4°C, but in this case, it can be stored at room temperature.
- The researchers found that the NanoPtA was stable for more than six months at room temperature.
Problems with natural enzymes
Enzymes are proteins that catalyse a majority of biological reactions in living systems. However, certain inherent limitations greatly hinder the practical use of natural enzymes.
- Mass-producing these enzymes is an expensive and time-consuming process. For example, laccase, a natural enzyme used for degrading phenols in industries, is extracted from a fungus called white rot.
- Still, the amount of enzyme produced depends on how much of the fungus is available at a given time. Another problem is storage – most natural enzymes are temperature-sensitive and require storage at cooler temperatures, often as low as -20°C.
Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation and comprehension of matter at the nanometer-scale. The nanoscale pertains to dimensions ranging from around 1 to 100 nanometers, where a nanometer is an incredibly minuscule unit of length, equivalent to one billionth (10-9) of a meter.
Nanomaterials come in various types, and there are different ways to classify them.
- Natural nanomaterials naturally occur in the environment, such as the particles found in volcanic ash, smoke, and some molecules in our bodies like hemoglobin in our blood.
- Artificial nanomaterials are created by people through various processes and objects. Examples include exhaust from burning fossil fuels and certain forms of pollution. While some of these are nanomaterials, scientists and engineers intentionally produce them for use in various industries like manufacturing and medicine. These are known as intentionally produced nanomaterials.
The American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman introduced the concept of nanotechnology in 1959.