Bacteria help get rid of plastic waste

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 12.03.2022

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10 January 2022, 09:00

Certain bacteria contain specific proteins that can degrade certain types of plastic.

Bacterial flora plays an important role in the circulation of substances. In particular, these microorganisms decompose the remains of animals and plants, and even plastic. It was this fact that a little earlier became an unconditional discovery for scientists.

Specialists from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have discovered an active worldwide growth of microorganisms that can degrade plastic. Bacteria were found during the study of their DNA - a stable and durable molecule capable of permanently settling in the soil and atmosphere. Microbial DNA is different from that of other microorganisms, and its encoded proteins have their own special characteristics.

Scientists have long known that there are bacteria that break down plastic polymers - in particular, they were found in the stomachs of cows. Now, experts have decided to improve microbial cells for their subsequent use in industrial waste processing.

DNA samples of the necessary microorganisms were collected by the researchers from different parts of the world. They were mined both in soil and in water. At the same time, a larger number of the required samples were found in places where plastic predominantly accumulated, which is quite understandable: the bacteria themselves try to use what they can to their advantage. The differences were only in the type of plastic subjected to bacterial decomposition.

It is likely that soon specialists will be able to give a targeted direction and adapt bacteria to clean up plastic waste. Another outcome of events is also possible: in the course of natural evolution, microorganisms themselves will learn to “digest” plastic to the extent that they can finally put things in order in the environment. Biodegradation is the most effective way to further control the millions of tons of plastic accumulated today on the ground, in the soil, and in the world's waters. The fact that researchers have been able to unlock the potential of the inhabitant microbiome to recycle plastic is already an important scientific step and a stimulus for further research.

Despite the global dominance of plastic, the demand for its production in the world is steadily growing, which further exacerbates the existing environmental problem. The vast majority of plastic ends up in landfills or is distributed throughout the environment. According to statistics, about 11 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans every year (not including the already existing accumulations). However, despite the risks of ecological catastrophe, the true bacterial potential for plastic degradation in different habitats is still under investigation.

Information is presented on the ASM JOURNALS page

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