An end to the plastic waste problems may be insight as Japanese scientists have discovered a new species of bacteria that is able to eat one of the world’s most common plastics.
Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is the plastic commonly found in disposable water bottles. Lightweight, colourless and strong it is widely used, with 50 million tonnes produced globally every year.
Published in the journal Science, the discovery by researchers from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University, could be a breakthrough in managing the plastic, which is notoriously resistant to being broken down by microbes or biodegradation.
To find the bacteria, a team of researchers collected 250 PET-contaminated samples including sediment, soil and wastewater from a plastic bottle recycling site.
They screened the microbes living on the samples to investigate whether any of them were eating the PET and using it to grow.
They found a consortium of microbes that appeared to break down a PET film, however just one of the bacteria species, named Ideonella sakaiensis, was responsible for PET degradation.
Further tests revealed the bacteria used enzymes to break down the PET, generating an intermediate chemical. The chemical was then taken up by the cell, where it was broken down even further by other enzymes providing the bacteria with carbon and energy to grow.
Read more here at the Independent