A solution to one of the world’s most urgent environmental crises has been found by a student; i .e. breeding bacteria that can eat plastic and then breaks down into by-products harmlessly.
Polyethene terephthalate (PET) degraded by microbes is one of the world’s most common plastics that is used in drinks bottles, clothing, and food packaging. This bacterium takes centuries for breaking down, and during that time, it does huge untold damage to the environment.
Each year, around 300 million tonnes of plastic is dumped, but only 10 percent of it is recycled.
The student involved in the research learned about all the crazy things that a bacteria can do and also about the bacterial metabolism. Then, she decided to find out if degradable microbes are there “straight-from-the-store” plastic. Each summer, tourists bring around 40 percent bunch of plastic in the Mediterranean Sea.
She began investigating adapted microbes, which degrade plastic in the water present around factories in Houston, her hometown and also in soil.
Ms Vague took her samples to her college in Portland, Oregon and tested around 300 strains of bacteria. This bacteria was for lipase and a fat-digesting enzyme likely to break down plastic and then transforming into a tasty material for bacteria to attract.
She then noticed that 20 of them gave lipase and there were three who boasted high levels of the enzyme. She then put three microbes, out of which one appeared to have been undiscovered previously. This was discovered from a forced PET that was cut from the strips of water bottles.
She was astonished by the results that the bacteria digested the plastic so easily.
A biologist at the University of Plymouth named Professor John McGeehan has done research on plastic-degrading enzymes. Based on that research, he told Ms Vague’s research to be in its initial stages and demanded more testing in this work.
Unexpectedly, there was some creation of a super-powered version of a plastic-eating enzyme earlier this year by Mr McGeehan and colleagues. In order to judge its ability to break down PET plastic, they dubbed PETease.
An enzyme was tweaked, which was produced from bacteria created in a Japanese recycling centre. Then, this enzyme was moulded into something that can digest plastic more effectively than any other substance in nature.
Researchers told that this new substance has been made by breaking down plastic into easy handling chunks and this could recycle tonnes of millions of plastic bottle.
Mr Mellies further added that this discovery would go a long way and will transform the plastic into some harmless products like CO2 and just spent bacteria.
Scientists from Japan tested different bacteria in 2016 that was obtained from the bottle recycling plant and it was found out that Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 could easily digest plastic and polyethene terephthalate. The plastic was that which was used to make single-use drink bottles. The bacteria worked by discharging an enzyme called PETase, which is a protein that speeds up a chemical reaction. This enzyme uses the carbon as a food source and then breaks certain chemical bonds, i.e. esters in PET and then leaves small molecules that the bacteria can easily absorb.
However, there are some bacterial enzymes that can slowly digest PET, but this new enzyme is specially developed for digesting PET.
This estimates that it can easily fasten up the digestion process more efficiently and will also contribute to bio-recycling.
In spite of various changes in the PETase activity, we are not so close to the solution of this plastic crisis. But this research has helped a lot in understanding the reason of how this enzyme breaks down PET and also tells us how it could work more faster by handling its active parts.
There is only one worry left after developing this to degrade and consume plastic in the first place is that this material may not be as durable as we have thought.
It is expected that many products and structures could be under threat if more bacteria began eating plastic in this manner.
The plastics industry would be under the serious thought of preventing its stocks from getting eaten by micro-organisms.