Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Guardian reports, surprise, that a species of bacteria has been discovered which can eat plastic.
Could a new plastic-eating bacteria help combat this pollution scourge?
Scientists have discovered a species of bacteria capable of breaking down commonly used PET plastic but remain unsure of its potential applications.
Nature has begun to fight back against the vast piles of filth dumped into its soils, rivers and oceans by evolving a plastic-eating bacteria – the first known to science.
In a report published in the journal Science, a team of Japanese researchers described a species of bacteria that can break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most-used plastics – polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or polyester.
The Japanese research team sifted through hundreds of samples of PET pollution before finding a colony of organisms using the plastic as a food source.
Further tests found the bacteria almost completely degraded low-quality plastic within six weeks. This was voracious when compared to other biological agents; including a related bacteria, leaf compost and a fungus enzyme recently found to have an appetite for PET.
The abstract of the study;
A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate)
Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) is used extensively worldwide in plastic products, and its accumulation in the environment has become a global concern. Because the ability to enzymatically degrade PET has been thought to be limited to a few fungal species, biodegradation is not yet a viable remediation or recycling strategy. By screening natural microbial communities exposed to PET in the environment, we isolated a novel bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, that is able to use PET as its major energy and carbon source. When grown on PET, this strain produces two enzymes capable of hydrolyzing PET and the reaction intermediate, mono(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalic acid. Both enzymes are required to enzymatically convert PET efficiently into its two environmentally benign monomers, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.
What amazes me is that anyone is surprised by this discovery. Anyone who has ever owned a large boat knows about the constant and often losing battle to control fungus and bacteria growing in the diesel tanks, and the hideously toxic biocides you have to keep adding to the fuel, to stop all the organic muck from blocking the fuel filter. Life finds a way.