Plastic-Eating Germs Could Reduce Pollution

"PET Pollution might be Diminished with Bacteria"

A team of Japanse scientits managed to grow a strain of bacteria that can eat plastic.

BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Whilst the battle against pollution rages on, the good guys are doing their best to come up with useful means of getting rid of all the stuff choking up Mother Nature. The Paris climate talks set a new milestone in the fight against atmospheric pollution, and it would seem that plastic in next on the agenda. A strain of plastic-eating germs could reduce pollution, according to a team of Japanese scientists.

Recently, a team of Japanese scientists Keio University identified a strain of bacteria that literally eats up all the excess plastic bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottles.

The strain of plastic-eating germs dubbed Ideonella sakaiensis, which according to the scientists can be found in nature, are capable of breaking down any type of PET container using a chemical process called hydrolysis.

Using this chemical trigger, the strain of plastic-eating germs can break down PET material using two distinct types of enzymes. Shosuke Yoshida, one of the scientists working on the project said that if the germs can multiplying up to the point where they can be used on an industrial scale, then we should see a dramatical decrease in plastic containers.

As estimated by several comprehensive eco reports, each year all the countries in the world produce approximately 56 million of plastic containers. Sadly, only 14 percent of these recipients are recycled, most of them ending up in the Ocean.

Now, based on another report put together by the World Economic Forum, by the end of 2050, the number of plastic containers will exceed the fish population.

Getting back to the plastic-eating germs, according to the team, the bacteria use water to trigger a hydrolysis reaction which, in turn, breaks down plastic.

Based on their lab experiments, the breaking-down process has two steps: in the presence of water, the bacteria will produce an intermediate enzyme called ISF6_483. The enzyme breaks down only a part of the plastic mass.

After the first process, the bacteria will produce another enzyme called ISF6_0224, which gets the job done.

In their experiments, the team of scientists used 250 different PET containers to see if the bacteria had any limitation. Fortunately, the plastic-suckers managed to eat away all the containers.

The idea of using living organism to solve pollution problems in not entirely new. In fact, for quite a while now, scientists have discovered that a species of worms are capable of eating plastic products and even Styrofoam.

While the idea of using plastic-eating bacteria sounds good, there are other issues the scientists must address before deploying the weapon: how will the bacteria interact with the environment? Will there be any side-effects? And how much bacteria should we grow to get rid of all the excess plastic?

Photo credits:takopix