Now they hope that the plastic-eating bacteria will help solve the global pollution crisis caused by disposed plastic.
When Japanese researchers discovered a type of bacteria that could eat non-biodegradable plastic in 2016, scientists rushed to study it and explore its full potential. One team, however, “accidentally” made it more effective.
It’s called Ideonella sakaiensis and can break down tiny flakes of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the type of plastic that bottles are made from. In fact, it could break down an entire plastic bottle in just 6 weeks.
— The Life Pile (@thelifepile) April 11, 2018
When researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the UK-based University of Portsmouth started studying the bacteria they were only trying to understand it better.
However, they accidentally ended up creating a new biocatalyst, dubbed PETase, that is more effective.
Today, scientists are studying how they can employ PETase to help curb global pollution, to which non-biodegradable plastic contributes greatly.
— The Life Pile (@thelifepile) April 9, 2018
By breaking down plastic into manageable chunks, the scientists suggest their new substances could help recycle millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.
Since the 1950s, it is estimated than 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced, of which only 9% has been recycled and another 12% incinerated.
It is believed that by 2050, the world will have produced 13 billion tons of plastic waste, most of it ending up in landfills and oceans.