Plastic-eating bacteria discovered by student could help solve global pollution crisis | The Independent

Image reveals colonies of bacteria growing on a strip of PET plastic (Claudia Lopez/Oregon Health Science University)

Tom Embury-Dennis@tomemburyd

A student may have found a solution to one of the world’s most urgent environmental crises – breeding bacteria capable of “eating” plastic and potentially breaking it down into harmless by-products.  The microbes degrade polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – one of the world’s most common plastics, used in clothing, drinks bottles and food packaging.

Image reveals colonies of bacteria growing on a strip of PET plastic (Claudia Lopez/Oregon Health Science University)
Image reveals colonies of bacteria growing on a strip of PET plastic (Claudia Lopez/Oregon Health Science University)

It takes centuries to break down, in the meantime doing untold damage to its surroundings.

Morgan Vague, who is studying biology at Reed College in Oregon, said the process, if sped up, could play a “big part” of solutions to the planet’s plastic problem, which sees millions of tonnes dumped in landfill and oceans every year.  Around 300 million tonnes of plastic is discarded each year, and only about 10 per cent of it is recycled.

“When I started learning about the statistics about all the plastic waste we have, essentially that told me we have a really serious problem here and we need some way to address it,” Ms Vague told The Independent.

After she began learning about bacterial metabolism and “all the crazy things bacteria can do”, the student decided to find out if there were microbes out there able to degrade “straight-from-the-store” plastic.

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