Plastic Eating Bacteria to Revolutionize Pollution Prevention

Recently, there has been a scientific breakthrough involving a certain type of bacteria. Many speculate that this could be a major process in reducing pollution. Although it may be obvious, it must be stated continuously that plastic is extremely harmful to the environment. It takes hundreds of years to decompose, and burning it or burying it simply adds to the problem. Immago states ,”Since its invention in 1846, we have produced over 8 billion metric tonnes of plastic, most of which is still lying around in some form. Even if a piece of plastic breaks down, its molecules are still out there, ending up in our rivers and oceans, being eaten by creatures at the bottom of the food chain. To try and imagine how bad the situation is, picture this; every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world!”

But now, it seems as there is light at the end of the tunnel as the newly found bacteria have been found to “eat” plastic. They secrete a chemical that breaks down the plastic into smaller monomers. Plastic is a polymer chain meaning it can be broken into many smaller chains. By breaking the plastic down, it allows for the material to be more easily recycled. Scientists have used the enzymes derived from these bacteria to try to speed up the process of degrading plastic as well. “When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,“ said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK. “This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.”

It is believed that the bacteria evolved to secrete these enzymes millions of years ago most likely due to resource scarcity. The Guardian states, “​​Bacteria that break down natural polymers like cellulose have evolved this twin approach over millions of years. The scientists thought by connecting the two enzymes together, it might increase the speed of degradation, and enable them to work more closely together.

The linked super-enzyme would be impossible for a bacterium to create, as the molecule would be too large. So the scientists connected the two enzymes in the laboratory and saw a further tripling of the speed. The new research by scientists at the University of Portsmouth and four US institutions is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”