A new type of bacteria that literally eats plastic has been discovered, and might play a crucial role in saving our planet from garbage that does not degrade easily. Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 can degrade a plastic bottle of low quality in just a couple of weeks.
Plastic pollution has been a serious problem for the conservation of our planet for years. The man-made material takes hundreds of years to degrade and affects both the environment and the wildlife terribly. However, a team of Japanese researchers might have found the most viable solution.
The new bacteria are capable of destroying the molecular bonds found in PET plastics. But how did the researchers discover the microorganism?
After closely analysing hundreds of plastic samples, the team managed to identify a colony of microorganisms feeding on the material. Professor Uwe Bornscheuer has commented on the study by pointing out that the PET’s molecular bonds are extremely strong and difficult to destroy. The bacteria are remarkable in this sense.
Various types of plastic have different lifespans. For instance, plastic bottles most quickly degrade in 450 years, but they can also take up to one thousand. However, the PET plastic does not degrade, which poses an even greater problem. The fact that people recycle only about ten percent of plastic bottles does not help either.
The bacteria named Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 might just be the solution to this serious issue. It appears that the microorganism has adapted over time and has thus developed this capability of eating plastic. The reason is, of course, the increased production of plastic over the last seventy years. Therefore, Ideonella was faced with a situation of either developing enzymes to digest the tough material or die.
While the bacteria seem to have no problems eating normal plastic, the plastic bottles made out of PET pose some difficulties. However, researchers are positive they can modify Ideonella in a way that it will allow it to digest even the toughest of plastics. In the future, it could be introduced in industrial settings for recycling and massive clean-up operations.
The good news comes at a time when each year thirty percent of the plastics in the whole world are thrown away in the surrounding environment, and eight million tons of the material are discarded into the waters of the ocean. What is even worse is that a sixth of the total of worldwide plastics are PETs.
At the moment, scientists are working on a biodegradable version of the material, but the existing ones must also be dealt with, and the newly discovered bacteria seem the perfect solution.
Image Source: Grist