Sustainability | Recycle | Green

Bacteria Discovery May Change the Realm of Plastic Recycling

gerardo cornejo velez plastic pollution

It’s no secret that plastics are plaguing our planet. While the invention of plastic has undoubtedly positively impacted every aspect of modern living, it has also brought an onslaught of pollution that no one was prepared for. Plastic trash has is for all intents and purposes, immortal; once it’s in an environment, it can be there for centuries.

I try to incorporate sustainability and eco-consciousness into all of my business ventures, and contributing to lessening the plastic problem that is currently afflicting our earth is the inspiration behind my investment in thermoplastics. Recycling is hugely important to me, and there has been a recent discovery that I’m very excited about.

The reason that plastics have such an expansive “shelf life” (and pollution-life for that matter) is that they are highly resistant to biodegradation, the process in which nature breaks down other organic matter. There have been efforts to create plastic that is biodegradable, but that invention does not address all of the existent plastic scattered throughout the planet. Scientists have recently stumbled across some bacteria that might be the answer to that exact problem.

A team of Japanese scientists from Kyoto University have discovered a bacteria that has the ability to degrade polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most commonly used plastics in the world. PET is found most readily in beverage bottles, and there are 56 million tons of polyethylene terephthalate produced every year.  PET is typically resistant to degradation by microbes, but a few fungi are able to flourish on a medium that contained PET. The team from Kyoto University, lead by Shosuke Yoshida, wanted to discover whether or not anything other than that fungi could digest PET.  

The team examined hundreds of samples of the environment that were contaminated by PET, and searched for organisms that would be able to use PET’s high carbon source for nourishment. Their research found a bacteria species that did exactly that when cultured, (they named it) Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6.

With the bacteria singled out, the team then worked to determine what enzymes were responsible for the degradation of PET. Several tests were run, and they were able to discover that enzymes  ISF6_4831 and ISF6_0224 both contained characteristics that allowed for the degradation of PET.

This discovery is extremely positive. The knowledge of these two enzymes has opened up an entirely new realm of possibility when it comes to the treatment of plastic pollution.

To see the source article for this post, click here: Arstechnica