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May 29, 2024
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Nature’s Recyclers: Bacteria Could Help Curb Plastic Pollution Crisis

A group of researchers have come up with a plastic-eating bacteria that could help curb plastic pollution by biodegrading plastic.

Though widely used in items like phone cases and trainers, polyurethane is a plastic difficult to recycle, often ending up in landfills. However, researchers have developed a sci-fi like solution. By incorporating spores of plastic-eating bacteria, they’ve developed a plastic that can biodegrade.

The type of bacteria added to the plastic is Bacillus subtilis, widely used as a food additive and a probiotic. Crucially, the bacteria has to be genetically engineered to be able to withstand the very high temperatures needed to make plastic.

Researcher Han Sol Kim, of the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, said: “There’s hope “we can mitigate plastic pollution in nature”.

And there might be an added advantage in that the spores increase the toughness of the plastic.

Co-researcher, Jon Pokorski, Professor at Jacobs school of Engineering said: “Our process makes the materials more rugged, so it extends its useful lifetime, and then, when it’s done, we’re able to eliminate it from the environment, regardless of how it’s disposed.”

The plastic is currently being worked on at the laboratory bench but could be in the real world within a few years, with the help of a manufacturer, he added.

But not everyone is convinced by the idea of developing biodegradable alternatives to conventional plastics. Some scientists argue it is far better to reduce the amount of plastic used in the first place.

The penultimate round of UN talks for a future plastics treaty have just drawn to a close in Canada, aimed at agreeing a global deal on tackling plastic pollution.

Prof Steve Fletcher, director of the Revolution Plastics Institute at the University of Portsmouth, said the most effective way of tackling plastic pollution was to agree on global legally binding cuts in plastic production.

“Care must be taken with potential solutions of this sort, which could give the impression that we should worry less about plastic pollution because any plastic leaking into the environment will quickly, and ideally safely, degrade. Yet, for the vast majority of plastics, this is not the case,” he added.

The research is published in the journal, Nature Communications.

Source: BBC

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