Bacteria Can Break Down Plastic

(p. A11) Bacteria can gobble up oil spills, radioactive waste and, now, plastic. Researchers in Japan said they have discovered a species of microbe that eats PET, the polymer widely used in food containers, bottles and synthetic fibers.
Some scientists have said the bacteria could help break down otherwise non-biodegradable debris in landfills or recycling plants.
“We now have a chance to biologically degrade the widespread plastic PET,” said Uwe Bornscheuer, a biochemist at Greifswald University in Germany. “That is, of course, a major achievement.”
. . .
At a recycling plant, Dr. Yoshida and his team collected 250 samples of PET debris and discovered a host of different microbes living among the trash.
The researchers screened the microbes to identify those that appeared to dine on PET, and subsequent biochemical testing showed that a single, new species, Ideonella sakaiensis, was responsible for decomposing the polymer.
Adhered to a low-grade PET film, the bacteria used two enzymes to break down the plastic into two environmentally benign substances, which served as their main source of food.

For the full story, see:
KAT LONG. “Japan Researchers Discover Plastic-Eating Bacteria.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2016, and has the title “New Species of Bacteria Eats Plastic.”)

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