Scientists discover plastic-eating bacteria


The way we deal with plastic waste could be revolutionised after the discovery of a new bacteria that 'eats' one of the most common forms of plastic.

A team of scientists in Japan discovered that the new species of bacteria, known as Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, could break down polyethylene terephthalate - or PET - which is used to make millions of plastic bottles a year.

Shosuke Yoshida and his colleagues from Keio University and the Kyoto Institute of Technology analysed debris from outside a plastic recycling facility and found the bacteria could use PET as its main energy and carbon source.

When grown on PET, the bacterium used two distinct enzymes that reacted with water to break down the plastic into two environmentally-benign substances: terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.

The ability to degrade PET through enzymes had previously been thought to be limited to a few species of fungus, but the new bacteria was found to completely degrade a thin layer of PET after just six weeks.

The discovery, reported in the journal Science, could be a revolutionary breakthrough for the packaging industry if the process can be sped up significantly.

Researchers have already sequenced the bacteria's genome in a bid to build stronger and faster strains. The packaging and recycling communities await the results with interest.

Released by packagingknowledge

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