Alonso Hernández, the UNAM Prepa 2 student, will represent Mexico in the International Water Competition in Stockholm

(Photo: UNAM Bulletin)

Aloso Hernandez Velazquez He is a young high school student decided to use science to address the great environmental challenges that Mexico and the world are experiencing. Inspired by his older brother and driven by his family, the student managed to create an innovative proposal for the degradation of polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PET, which is a type of strong and flexible plastic that can take up to a thousand years. in disappearing

His project focused on enzymes capable of degrading PET led him to be awarded the National Youth Water Award 2022 as well as represent Mexico internationally in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (Stockholm International Water Prize) which will take place in Sweden on August 30.

It should be noted that the competition to obtain this award is considered one of the most important in the world in terms of water, so much so that the award is also known as the Nobel Prize for Water for students.

“PET (…) is a serious problem not only for the environment but also for society,” he mentioned in an interview for the university environment of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

And it is that Alonso, who is currently studying at the High School 2, Erasmo Castellanos of UNAM and who hopes to enter the Faculty of Science to study Physicsdesigned the project entitled “Discovery of thermostable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) degrading enzymes from metagenomes”.

(Photo: @premiojuvenildelagua)
(Photo: @premiojuvenildelagua)

In the midst of a pandemic COVID-19 and with the sanitary restrictions, Alonso managed to carry out his investigations thanks to the support of his older brother Rodrigo Hernandez Velazquez, who studied Genomic Sciences at UNAM; his father, Justo Salvador Hernández Avilés, professor of Aquatic Ecology at the Faculty of Higher Studies Zaragoza and your computer with internet connection.

“The project occupies many aspects of Genomic and Metagenomic Sciencebut not interesting is that although it is something innovative, like almost everything today, we can do it from a computer, so it is something great, because science is open to all of us who have this opportunity to have an electronic device”.

And it is that, one of the most remarkable points of his research is that he was able to carry it out by using his computer with an Internet connection and through consultations of public genetic databases, which allowed him to carry out the project from the comfort from your home.

(Photo: Embassy of Sweden in Mexico)
(Photo: Embassy of Sweden in Mexico)

Through metagenomics (study of the structure and function of genomic sequences) and bioinformatic methods, Alonso began to search for enzymes capable of degrading PET to remove this contaminant from the aquatic systemsas well as granting it an industrial use.

In other words, the high school student began, through a specialized model, looking for which organisms possessed a specific sequence of DNA that was capable of naturally degrading PET and withstanding high temperatures.

Investigating on free information sites, the young man found two enzymes: PETase and MHETase. These are produced by microorganisms that live in a hot spring in China and They have the ability to transform plastic into materials that are not harmful to the environment.

It should be noted that currently it is necessary to analyze in greater depth the use of them for their future insertion in natural environments.


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Alonso Hernández, the UNAM Prepa 2 student, will represent Mexico in the International Water Competition in Stockholm