Plastic-Eating Bacteria Can Help Fight Pollution

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Plastic pollution is a huge issue here on Earth, as well as an important part of the climate crisis. In response to the scourge that is plastic pollution, scientists have been innovating a lot in recent years – and a recent study provides clues to the discovery and use of plastic-eating bacteria.

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Although it will take more than this to rid our natural world of plastic, the secret potential of these bacteria is exciting and promising. Continue reading the details.

Microorganisms that eat Plastic
Source: NIOZ

Plastic particles about 2 mm in size

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Plastic-eating bacteria can turn ocean plastic into CO2.

In January 2023, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) published a new study, looking at bacteria. Rhodococcus red.

The lead researcher, PhD student Maaike Goudriaan, carried out laboratory experiments as a case study, where he treated a special plastic (containing a specific type of carbon, known as 13C) to a light. UV (active like sunlight) in a synthetic bottle. sea ​​water. The sunlight helped a little to break down the plastic into pieces that the bacteria could eat.

Next, he fed the plastic made of light to the bacteria – and this resulted in a special form of carbon appearing as CO2 on the surface of the water.

In fact, Goudriaan discovered bacteria Rhodococcus red “it eats and digests plastic,” turning plastic into CO2 and other things.

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Like ScienceDaily data, previous research has found that Rhodococcus red it can form a biofilm on the plastic in the natural environment, and the plastic underneath the biofilm can disappear.

However, “This is the first time we have demonstrated in this way that bacteria digest plastic with CO2 and other molecules,” Goudriaan said in a statement. ScienceDaily. “But now we’ve actually shown that bacteria actually digest plastic.”

This is undoubtedly an exciting discovery; that said, Goudriaan asserted that “this is definitely not a solution to the problem of plastic soup in our oceans.” According to his findings, bacteria can break down about 1 percent of that plastic that is fed “into CO2 and other harmless substances.”

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The next step in this research will be using this case study in nature, to see if bacteria can be used to eat plastic in the wild. Goudriaan did a few random experiments on this, and they “[hint] as plastic degrades, even naturally.”

But overall, Goudriaan believes that “it’s better than cleaning, it’s prevention. And we’re the only people who can do that.”

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Other studies are looking at how bacteria can be used to break down plastic.

As mentioned above, this is not the first study to look at bacterial pathways Rhodococcus red – or other bacteria, for that matter – can degrade plastic. For example, in April 2021, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University published the results of a study in which they used bacteria. Pseudomonas aeruginosa breaking down microplastics effectively in the laboratory.

They used bacteria to create a bacterial biofilm, which the scientists used to create nets, which were placed in water full of microplastics. The biofilm nets were able to trap the microplastics and sink them together, and the researchers were able to successfully remove the microplastics from the water.

NIOZ research builds on such research and takes it to the next level, since Rhodococcus red you are actually eating plastic.

Overall, we will need a strong combination of both efforts to remove plastic from our natural waters and efforts to reduce human dependence on plastic (and thus new plastic pollution in the environment). We hope that research will continue to grow on these topics so that we can truly fight plastic pollution.

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