There have been many estimations on how harmful plastics can be. The World Economic Forum had once stated that in 35 years, oceans will contain more plastic than fish.
Polyethylene terephthalate also known as PET, is one such form of plastic that is widely used – primarily for making bottles – and has properties that makes it really difficult to decompose within a short period of time. PET also makes up almost one-sixth of the world’s annual plastic production.
So PET poses a serious environmental hazard. However, in a breakthrough discovery, scientists in Japan have found a species of bacteria that feeds on PET.
While humans may sit back and relax, nature will not.
The researchers in Japan isolated 250 samples of PET debris they collected from a recycling plant. The bacteria – Ideonella sakaiensis – use a pair of enzymes to break down PET.
“If you put a bacteria in a situation where they’ve only got one food source to consume, over time they will adapt to do that. I think we are seeing how nature can surprise us and in the end the resiliency of nature itself,” lead researcher Enzo Palombo, from Swinburne University, told The Guardian.
It takes the bacteria nearly six weeks to degrade a small piece of PET which is not of a very good quality. It took them longer to degrade PET which are not made of cheap material. Researchers have mentioned that bacteria would have a limited impact if it were to be applied to large amount of plastic waste.
“This is the first rigorous study – it appears to be very carefully done – that I have seen that shows plastic being hydrolyzed [broken down] by bacteria,” said Dr Tracy Mincer, a researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to The Guardian.
But, still say no to plastic.
Feature image source: AFP