“Scientists have discovered a species of bacteria capable of breaking down commonly used PET plastic but remain unsure of its potential applications”.
From a report released by the journal Science, a team of Japanese researchers have discovered a species of bacteria which can break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most-used plastics: polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester or PET. Tests revealed that the bacteria can almost completely degrade low-quality plastics within six weeks and appears to be the first rigorous study done which shows plastic being broken down by bacteria. Upon examination, the bacteria named ideonella Sakaiensis 201-F6, may have evolved enzymes specifically capable of breaking down PET in response to the accumulation of the plastic in the environment in the past 70 years. The bacteria takes longer to eat away at highly crystallised PET, which is used in plastic bottles, but it’s an extraordinary observation of the resiliency of mother nature and its ability of the bacteria to quickly adapt to their surroundings. PET makes up nearly one-sixth of the world’s annual plastic production, and despite it being one of the more commonly recycled plastics, the World Economic Forum reports that only half is ever collected for recycling and reuse. Because of this, it will remain unclear for quite a while of the impacts of this PET eating bacteria, but scenarios are already being envisioned such as bacteria being sprayed on ocean trash heaps or to combat oil spills. The world’s plastic problem is one of great importance and this new discovery will certainly lead to the future of biological agents capable of breaking down even more plastics.