Scientists discover plastic-eating bacteria


Waste plastics can be found just about everywhere.
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.