Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Hungry Little Bacterium That Could Hold the Key to the World's Plastic Waste Problem

This is great news as the biological pathways are also understood and this can be then inserted in optimized agents to maximize the effect. We need all our plastics to rot in some form or the other and the sooner the better.

Doing it all in a landfill is good enough but sorting and all that may well produce a better grade of bi product.  It also shows that this basic sampling approach will successfully isolate useful biological solutions.  Let us not stop there.  We need these tools for all unnatural compounds that resist breakdown.

Turning it into industrial processes is another problem.  It needs to be likely windrowed and turned several times as well as fed and watered to generate the best results in most cases.  That has been done properly enough little of the time..

The hungry little bacterium that could hold the key to the world's plastic waste problem

Nick Lavars March 10, 2016

Hundreds of millions of tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic are produced each year to package everything from sodas to shampoo. That only a fraction of this is recycled leaves much of it to rest in landfills and the ocean. But efforts to deal with this monumental mess may soon receive a much-needed boost, with scientists in Japan discovering a new bacterium with the ability to completely break down PET plastics in a relatively short space of time.

A team led by Dr Shosuke Yoshida from the Kyoto Institute of Technology unearthed the bacterium, quite literally, by scooping up 250 debris samples from outside a PET recycling plant. Among the soil, sludge and other sediments, they discovered a bacterium that was actually feeding on PET as its energy and carbon source. When it was left alone in a jar with PET plastic, the scientists found that the material was completely broken down within a matter of weeks.

At the heart of this healthy appetite for plastic were a pair of enzymes, which the microbe appears to have evolved in response to its PET-heavy environment. These enable the bacterium, which has been named Ideonella sakaiensis, to reduce the plastic down to its basic building blocks: two environmentally harmless monomers called terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.

While plastic-eating fungi has been discovered in the past, they haven't been so easy to produce. By identifying the gene behind the bacterium's creation of these two enzymes, the scientists were able to recreate them in the lab and have them break down the plastic on their own, suggesting a more effective approach to recycling and plastic waste management could be on the way.

The research was published in the journal Science.

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