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Scientists discover plastic-eating bacteria

By T.K. Randall
March 12, 2016 · Comment icon 18 comments

Waste plastics can be found just about everywhere. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0
For the first time ever a species of bacteria has been found that can break down common plastics.
Landfills overflowing with non-degradable materials have been a growing concern in recent years, but now it seems as though nature might have actually found a way to fight back.

Researchers in Japan recently conducted a study in which they sifted through hundreds of samples of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) pollution before identifying a colony of bacteria that appeared to have developed special enzymes capable of breaking the plastic down.

It is the first time that such an organism has ever been found and it is believed to have emerged in direct response to the amount of plastic we've been dumping over the last 70 years.

"If you put a bacteria in a situation where they've only got one food source to consume, over time they will adapt to do that," said microbiology professor Enzo Palombo.
Known as Ideonella sakaiensis, the bacteria are able to degrade low-quality PET plastics within just six weeks - not bad considering how strongly the molecules in polyester are bonded together.

"Until recently, no organisms were known to be able to decompose it," said Prof Uwe Bornscheuer.

While the discovery is certainly an intriguing one, it isn't clear just yet whether these new bacteria can be harnessed in any way to help dispose of plastics or other materials more efficiently.

Ultimately the most effective tactic is to simply avoid dumping the plastics in the first place.

Source: The Guardian | Comments (18)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by Wickian 8 years ago
Imagine the trail of destruction this bacteria would cause in Hollywood. A new strain of flesh eating bacteria. Instead of picking it up in stagnant lakes you pick it up at "exclusive" parties.
Comment icon #10 Posted by morphiouse1 8 years ago
well the future is not looking good for all those fiber glass cars them? not to mention vinyl seats,floors and coats etc.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Myles 8 years ago
I wonder if this bacteria actually evolved to do this or was already capable.
Comment icon #12 Posted by PersonFromPorlock 8 years ago
I'm not too sure I like the idea of a bacterium that looks at my computer as lunch. This may not end well.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Darkenpath25 8 years ago
We are killing our environment nature has been taking care of us since the beginning of time . It doesnt surprise me one bit that nature found a way to break down plastic's . Look at all the vehicles , bridges and other things made of iron and metal that eventually revert back to its natural state .
Comment icon #14 Posted by third_eye 8 years ago
~ ~ What's Eating Titanic? On the ocean floor, Titanic is at the mercy of several processes. For one thing, the once 883-foot-long (270-meter-long) ship is a sprawling feast for marine organisms. Mollusks have consumed much of Titanic's wood—leaving the metal hull to microscopic bacteria and fungi. As the microbes eat away at Titanic, they form self-contained, icicle-like biological communities called rusticles. By 1996 there were some 650 tons (dry weight) of rusticles on the outside of Titanic's bow section alone (picture), according to estimates by microbiologist Roy Cullimore, a veteran ... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by RedSquirrel 8 years ago
Brings to mind the 'weapon' in Jackie Chan's 'Spy Next Door'.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Sundew 8 years ago
Bacteria spores can be found pretty much everywhere, however, bacteria themselves need a certain amount of favorable conditions to grow, so I wouldn't worry about everything made of plastic starting to disintegrate just yet. The organism that causes Botulism produces one of the most toxic substances known to man, a single drinking glass full of the toxin could pretty much wipe out most if not all of the human race, yet that organism is probably being consumed every time you eat a salad, as a dormant spore. This is an anaerobic bacteria that only grows and produces it's poison in the absence of... [More]
Comment icon #17 Posted by third_eye 8 years ago
ahhhhh but bacteria evolves and gets better at doing things unexpected AND unthinkable ~
Comment icon #18 Posted by wuhugm 8 years ago
Biomeat is here

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