Environmental science & technology

Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Polyester Thin Films at the Nanoscale: Effects of Polyester Structure and Enzyme Active-Site Accessibility.

PMID 28538100


Biodegradable polyesters have a large potential to replace persistent polymers in numerous applications and to thereby reduce the accumulation of plastics in the environment. Ester hydrolysis by extracellular carboxylesterases is considered the rate-limiting step in polyester biodegradation. In this work, we systematically investigated the effects of polyester and carboxylesterase structure on the hydrolysis of nanometer-thin polyester films using a quartz-crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring. Hydrolyzability increased with increasing polyester-chain flexibility as evidenced from differences in the hydrolysis rates and extents of aliphatic polyesters varying in the length of their dicarboxylic acid unit and of poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT) polyesters varying in their terephthalate-to-adipate ratio by Rhizopus oryzae lipase and Fusarium solani cutinase. Nanoscale nonuniformities in the PBAT films affected enzymatic hydrolysis and were likely caused by domains with elevated terephthalate contents that impaired enzymatic hydrolysis. Yet, the cutinase completely hydrolyzed all PBAT films, including films with a terephthalate-to-adipate molar ratio of one, under environmentally relevant conditions (pH 6, 20 °C). A comparative analysis of the hydrolysis of two model polyesters by eight different carboxylesterases revealed increasing hydrolysis with increasing accessibility of the enzyme active site. Therefore, this work highlights the importance of both polyester and carboxylesterase structure to enzymatic polyester hydrolysis.