Plastic eating bacteria could solve recycling problem

Japanese scientists discover new PET eating bacteria

According to scientists, a new bacteria has emerged which has the ability to eat the troublesome PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastics that are plaguing the globe.

PET plastics present a particular problem to the world, as they are difficult to recycle. Figures shows that 56 million tonnes of PET plastic was produced in 2013 but only 2.2million of that was recycled, while the rest made its way to overcrowded landfill sites or the world’s oceans.

New PET eating bacteria discovered by scientists

New bacteria can eat away PET plastic


A team of Japanese scientists at Kyoto Institute of Technology have discovered a new bacteria which they say eats away at PET plastic using two enzymes. The researchers believe that the PET eating bacteria, which they named Ideonella sakaiensi, must have evolved over time as the man-made PET plastic was only invented in 1941.

According to the scientists, Ideonella sakaiensi uses two enzymes to break down the PET until it becomes two harmless substances, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, which the bacteria then feeds on.

Koehi Oda, one of the researchers who discovered the bacteria, said: “We have to improve the bacterium to make it more powerful, and genetic engineering might be applicable here.”

The original report, published in the journal Science, says that at present the newly discovered bacteria can eat away a finger-nail sized section of PET within six weeks. At that rate, Ideonella sakaiensi would not make much of a headway with the thousands of tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year.

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