A new bacteria that eats plastic have been discovered by a team of scientists in Japan. The incredible finding could finally solve the world’s plastic pollution problem.
The bacteria devour the most common type of plastic known as Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), which is most commonly used in package bottled drinks. According to the scientists a very special strain of bacteria has some unique digestive abilities.
“Ideonella sakaiensis breaks down the plastic by using two enzymes to hydrolyze PET and a primary reaction intermediate, eventually yielding basic building blocks for growth,” wrote the researchers.
The bacteria can eat plastic relatively fast
The team analyzed 250 sediment samples at an Osaka, Japan bottle recycling facility and found the new form of bacteria. They estimate the plastic breakdown process takes about six weeks, which is quite fast when compared to other biological agents.
The scientists found that it took a little longer for the bacteria to eat higher-grade plastic bottles made with crystallized PET. The molecules in crystallized PET are bonded tightly together, which makes it very resistant to decomposition. However, up until now, no other living organisms known to #Science were able to destroy it.
The scientists believe the bacteria specifically evolved to eat the tough plastic in response to the higher amount of it in the environment over the past 70 years.
A viable solution to the plastic problem
Conservationists see the bacteria as a way to eliminate much of the plastic that escapes collection systems and ultimately prevent it from polluting the environment. According to the World Economic Forum, only 14 percent of the 311 million tons of plastic packaging humans produce is ever recycled. Additionally, the organization estimates that there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050.
"We have shared the possibility of biological recycling of plastic," says a study author. "We want to develop this discovery into the application. This is the very first step."
Obviously, the potential environmental impact of such a discovery is monumental. One possible application would be to spray the huge floating trash heaps already in the oceans with the bacteria, much the same way oil spills are cleaned up.
The study of the new bacteria that eats plastic was published Friday in the journal Science. #News