Kyoto – Japanese researchers have discovered a new plastic-eating bacteria, that is able to eat up plastic and could tackle the growing plastic waste problems in the world.  

Previously to the discovery experts had found a series of selected species of fungi that had the potential to break down polyethylene, but only in a very long period of time. The new discovery is able to solve this issue in a shorter period of time.

Microbiologist skimmed through waste and soil samples at a plastic recycling facility and found a plastic-eating species of bacteria. Here it is after noshing on plastic for 60 hours. Photo courtesy of Kohei Oda

A team of researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have discovered the plastic-eating bacteria called, Ideonella sakaiensis. Discovering that the bacteria is able to degrade polyethylene, better known as PET, a type of non-biodegradable plastic, into a form of plastic that is able to degrade in just six weeks.  The bacterium is able to produce two enzymes, which when used with water is capable of reducing PET to its basic form.

It is common knowledge the fact that plastic is a critical part of the world’s daily life. According to the Latino Post website, we produce several million tonnes of waste every year, which is harming to the environment. The quantity of plastic produced per year is at least 50 million tons of PET plastic. This common type of plastic is easily found in products such as water bottles, clothing, frozen dinner containers, blister packaging, between many, many others products in the market.The accumulation to PET plastic has become a global concern, in the last years.

While trying to discover Ideonella sakaiensis, researchers isolated the bacteria after five years of  swifting through 250 samples. “The bacterium is the first strain having a potential to degrade PET completely into carbon dioxide and water” Said co-author Kohei Oda of Japan’s Kyoto Institute of Technology.

The bacteria could be used to biologically recycle plastic, something that has never been done before. Even though six weeks is a shorter period of time, it’s not enough to keep up with the amount of plastic produce per day in the world, scientist believe that this bacteria could be enhanced by industrial engineers to accelerate the process.

“ We have shared the possibility of biological recycling of plastic,  we want to develop this discovery into the application. This is the first step” Said co-author Shosuke Yoshida  a biologist at Kyoto Institute of Technology.

The discovery of the  Ideonella sakaiensis is a big step in the global plastic reduce issue, making societies  more aware of the amount of plastic produced in a day to day basis, and the harm that is causing to our environment. Helping faster plastic degradation is only a good solution if producers of PET and consumers understand the real meaning behind it.

Source: Science Mag