Yet without proper dampness and other conditions that are often missing in garbage dumps, paper fails to decompose for dozens of years. As a result, billions of tons of wastepaper cram the planet's landfills, creating an enormous environmental problem worldwide.
Professor Edward Bayer of the Weizmann Institute's biological chemistry department in Israel has developed a process that one day may yield a solution to the global wastepaper glut.
Back in 1983, he and professor Raphael Lamed of Tel Aviv University discovered the cellulosome – a molecular complex that degrades cellulose, a major component of wood, cotton and other types of plant matter. In subsequent years, Bayer and Lamed elucidated the cellulosome's architecture and identified its major components.
The cellulosome is normally not good at breaking down human-made cellulose products such as paper, but Bayer and his colleagues are now developing "designer" cellulosomes that can improve on nature.
Using genetic engineering and combining different structural elements in a Lego-like design, the scientists are putting together artificial cellulosomes that are unusually effective.