The plastic pollution crisis is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be tackled for the future wellbeing of our planet. It was found that up to 23 million metric tons of plastic end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans each year and this amount has the potential to be doubled by the year 2025. It's clear that a solution needs to be addressed, however in reality it’s likely our reliance on the convenience of plastic use won't be abated anytime soon. Researchers from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology have been studying a bacterium that holds the potential of efficiently degrading difficult-to-recycle petroleum-based plastics- Ideonella sakaiensis
I. sakaiensis is an example of a bacterium that possesses the necessary enzymes to degrade poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The bacterium converts PET into poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) which is a type of poly(hydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biodegradable plastic. Senior author Shosuke Yoshida explains that the PET-degradation and PHB-synthesis pathways are functionally linked in I. sakaiensis. This finding could provide, “a novel pathway where a single bacterial species breaks down difficult-to-recycle PET plastics and uses the products to make biodegradable PHA plastics." Right now there are two major issues involving the sustainability of plastics: degrading the most persistent form of petroleum-based plastic and simultaneously producing sustainable biodegradable plastics. Plastics are polymers which have long repeating chains of molecules and they’re exceptionally durable. This makes them difficult to decompose naturally. An easy way to understand the molecular process in which I. sakaiensis could benefit is that by secreting the specific enzyme, the chemical bonds of the chains within PETs are degraded and the molecules are broken down into their smaller components. This allows for them to be more easily recycled.
Due to its widespread, essential use in daily human life it's reasonable to assume that plastic won't be going anywhere at this point. It’s for this that a biodegradable solution like the use of bacteria is crucial to slowing the plastic pollution crisis. More research will be conducted in the upcoming years, but the enzymes and molecular pathways within bacterium like I. sakaiensis are more than promising. It’s fascinating to think that our large-scale ecosystems will potentially be saved by molecular-scale bacterium.
Posted by Declan Downing (4)
It's crazy to think that bacteria could help degrade plastic! Plastic is so often used, we definitely need a better solution to help aid our plastic crisis! Really great article!!ReplyDelete
I agree, I appreciated the article addressing the idea that due to its worldwide convenience plastic most likely wont be going anywhere soon, however that doesn't mean we cant come up with a better plastic-recycling method. A very realistic take in light of human's strong plastic-dependency. - DeclanDelete
I found your article very eye-opening and informative. This is a global issue that needs to be addressed more, and I am relieved to see that there are such solutions being considered.ReplyDelete
- Tugba Kahveci
Yes I found it quite interesting how this potential bacterium-recycling method focuses on using easy to come by organisms. A very natural approach to dealing with the plastic crisis.Delete
- Declan Downing
It could be game changing for climate protection to be able to degrade plastic. Usually our non-resuable plastics can last for hundreds of years just polluting ecosystems. If there was a widespread microbe that could just consume the plastic could mean the difference between trash and microplastics everywhere and a clean planet.ReplyDelete
I read that it takes 450 years for plastic bottles to decompose, and plastic items can take upwards to 1000 years to decompose in land fills. Definitely an issue these future generations need to address considering how much of our trash is plastic-based.Delete
- Declan Downing
This makes the single-use plastic issue a little less anxiety inducing. Hopefully we can find a fix to the issue sooner rather than later, and hopefully we can build on the plastic-eating microbe idea!ReplyDelete