Discovery of a new bug that can break down plastics


It is reported that in just 30 years times the amount of plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh fish. Unless something is done to recycle more plastic materials they will have a devastating effect on the worlds ecosystem. One of the most damaging forms of plastic is Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is found in most disposable plastic drinks bottles. However scientists believe they may have discovered a bug that can break down these currently non-biodegradable plastics that are destroying our oceans.


Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET, is commonly used in other products such as polyester clothing, frozen ready meal packaging and blister packages. This type of plastic was only invented 70 years ago which makes researcher think that the bacteria has evolved in order to be able to consume it and break it down.


Its believed that a tiny microbe could one day help to destroy the 50 million tons of plastic that we use each year. The bacteria thrives on plastic and is able to break it down in order to be able to consume it. Researchers have discovered that the bacteria uses enzymes in order to break down the PET into intermediate mono(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalic acid, or MHET. The other enzyme called MHETase converts the MHET into the monomers terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. The bacterium attaches itself onto the PET and releases one of the enzymes to produce an intermediate chemical, which the bacterium then consumes. The second enzyme breaks it down even further into Carbon, which provides the bacteria with more energy.


Research was led by Kohei Oda of Koto Institute of Technology and Kenji Miyamoto of Keio University. They analyzed over 200 samples of soil, wastewater and sediment from a PET bottle recycling plant in Japan. This is where they discovered the bacteria and named it Ideonella sakainesis after the city where it was discovered.


However not everyone is convinced by the plastic eating bacteria and believe that its not clear if it would help the plastic crisis in our oceans. Currently the best way of disposing this type of plastic is to place it in recycling bins so it can be melted down and turned into new plastic bottles.


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