Industry News

American students find "eat plastic" bacteria, or help alleviate global pollution crisis

British media said that a student may have found a solution to one of the world's most pressing environmental crises - cultivating bacteria that can "swallow" plastics and break it down into harmless by-products.

According to the British "Independent" website reported on June 30, the bacteria degraded polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - one of the most common plastics in the world, used in clothing, drinking water bottles and food packaging Wait. The substance takes hundreds of years to break down and causes incalculable damage to the environment.

Morgan Wegger, who studies biology at Reed College in Oregon, said that if this process accelerates, it can play a "significant role" in solving the problem of global plastics. Millions of tons of waste plastic are buried or dumped into the ocean every year. . About 300 million tons of plastic are discarded each year, and only about 10% are recycled.

Wegger told The Independent: "When I started to understand the data of all our plastic waste, this actually tells us that this is a serious problem and we need some way to solve it."

After she began to understand the metabolism of bacteria and "all the crazy things that bacteria can do," Weg decided to find out if bacteria could "directly" degrade the plastic.

She began looking around her hometown Houston refinery for microbes that were adapted to degrade plastics in land and water.

Weig then took the sample back to the college in Portland, Oregon, and began testing lipase (an enzyme that digests fat) from about 300 bacteria, which potentially break down the plastic and make the plastic to bacteria tasty. Wegger identified 20 bacteria that produce lipase, three of which are relatively high in enzymes.

Next, she forced the three microbes (one of which appeared to have not been discovered before) to feed the PET strips cut from the water bottle. She was surprised to find that bacteria can digest PET.

But she warned that the speed at which we see microbes eating plastics can match the speed of discarded plastics and "a long way to go."

The microbiologist Jay Melis, who directs Weiger's paper, said the next step is to speed up and improve the pretreatment of PET, making it easier to eat and allowing the bacteria to consume a variety of plastics.

“The plastic problem is very serious and everyone is starting to understand this,” he said. “This is not a complete solution, but I think this is part of the solution.”

Professor John McGeehan, a biologist at the University of Plymouth and a researcher on plastic degrading enzymes, warned that Wegger's research is in its infancy and requires more testing. He said: "This is undoubtedly one of the interesting studies, and they may have discovered something new, another bacteria that eats PET plastic, but this is still in the early stages of the experiment."

Earlier this year, McGeehan and colleagues stumbled upon a powerful enzyme that consumes plastic, which is called PETase because of its ability to break down PET plastics. After a slight adjustment, the enzyme can digest the plastic better than anything previously found in nature. It is made from a microbe found in a Japanese recycling center. By breaking down the plastic into manageable chunks, the researchers believe that the new materials they found can help recover millions of tons of plastic bottles.

But Melis insists that their own research can take it to the next level and eventually transform plastic into ineffective microbes, carbon dioxide and harmless waste products.

So will this research evolve into a terrible superbug that can breed and eat all the plastics in the world?

Melis said: "This is not the case. This is a naturally occurring microbe that exists in our environment. We have not genetically engineered them, but just tried to isolate the bacteria and pre-process the plastic. Treatment, allowing bacteria to naturally digest plastic."