Plastic flows into the sea from land, living and industrial waste. Fine plastic refers to small plastic pieces that are less than 5mm broken or microbiz which are made small from the beginning and used in some toothpaste and cosmetics products. About 700,000 microplastic fibers, less than 1mm, are released each time a washing machine is running to an average capacity. These microplastics are so small that they are not filtered through the sewage system that they can accumulate on the riverbed or enter the sea. Marine plastic pollution has a serious effect on marine life. Sea turtles, dolphins, and whales are injured or trapped by floating plastic in the sea, while animals such as seabirds mistake plastic for food and swallow it. The plastic that enters the food chain eventually goes to our dinner table. In a week, we eat a credit card, and in a month, we eat a toothbrush.
In order to break this micro-plastic vicious cycle, Korean researchers have developed the world’s first phytoplankton that can degrade micro-plastics and pet bottles.
According to a paper published in the “Microbiological Cell Factories, ” researchers at the Korea Institute of Biotechnology used phytoplankton at the bottom of the underwater ecosystem food chain to block a chain of microplastic concentrations.
The research team succeeded in synthesizing plant plankton with an enzyme called PETase separated from a bacterium called Ideonella Sakaiensis. The team developed the world’s first phytoplankton called ‘CC-124 PETase’ that can degrade plastics. It shows high plastic decomposition activity even at relatively low temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees celsius, and a single enzyme can break down the PET very finely. When the top predator ingests the plastic-disintegrating plant plankton, it can help to degrade the accumulated microplastics in the body and release them out of the body. As phytoplankton is already developed as a health functional food, it can be easily applied to human body. This technology presents a new paradigm for solving environmental pollution caused by plastics. Further research will allow it to be widely used in various fields such as natural restoration.
Kim, J.W., Park, SB., Tran, QG. et al. Functional expression of polyethylene terephthalate-degrading enzyme (PETase) in green microalgae. Microb Cell Fact 19, 97 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12934-020-01355-8