Seaweed Enzyme makes cleaning laundry more environmentally friendly

Scientists researching seaweed enzymes. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

An enzyme found on seaweed and discovered by scientists at Newcastle University is revolutionising the way we clean our clothes as it makes it cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The novel phosphodiesterase enzyme is used by bacteria to disconnect themselves from seaweed. Scientists have found the same bacteria on dirty clothing materials and fabrics and have discovered that the enzyme can work at breaking down that dirt if used in cleaning detergents.

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This enzyme is a powerful, natural cleaner, which researchers have found can be used to help cleaning in other places. 

Isolating the enzyme and testing it under various lab conditions, Professor Grant Burgess and Dr Michael Hall found it was heat stable and could also work at its optimum at low temperatures too, replicating the environment at sea.

The scientists began looking into how ships on the River Tyne could be kept clean back in 2010 and they decided to look at the natural world for help.

These seaweeds have on their surface bacteria which contribute to the health of the seaweed. The bacteria themselves produce tiny enzymes and we’ve been able to isolate and develop an enzyme called a phosphodiesterase. It’s a beautiful natural chemical and they’ve got fantastic cleaning properties and they can help us to keep our laundry clean.

Prof Grant Burgess

We’ve been able to develop them into a product that is available on our shelves today. 

Prof Grant Burgess

That means we can use less electricity and amazingly it means that we can also allow our clothes to last longer so there’s much less impact on our environment than otherwise through the power of enzymes.

Prof Grant Burgess

Testing mixers at Newcastle University. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

It has taken the scientists five years of experimentation, in collaboration with researchers at detergent manufacturers Procter & Gamble, to modify the enzyme and make it more stable for use in cleaning detergents.

The research team told ITV News the inclusion of the enzyme in cleaning detergents enables consumers to keep their clothes for longer as it improves the quality of the fabrics. They said it also allows them to save money on energy bills, as they can wash at lower temperatures and more importantly, they said, it reduces carbon emissions too.

These tiny quantities of sticky biological glues that are on our T-shirts and our socks today, we can now get rid of them for the first time and that gives us the opportunity to deep clean clothes at lower temperatures. That means we can use less electricity and amazingly it means that we can also allow our clothes to last longer.

Dr Neil Lant, Proctor & Gamble
Fabrics from the laboratory. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees