Climate idea
Image of Japan - The Government of Japan

Japan - The Government of Japan

Climate idea

We are just getting started’: the plastic-eating bacteria that could change the world

When a microbe was found munching on a plastic bottle in a rubbish dump, it promised a recycling revolution. Now scientists are attempting to turbocharge those powers in a bid to solve our waste crisis. But will it work?a group of Japanese scientists made a startling discovery at a rubbish dump. In trenches packed with dirt and waste, they found a slimy film of bacteria that had been happily chewing through plastic bottles, toys and other bric-a-brac. As it broke down the trash, the bacteria harvested the carbon in the plastic for energy, which it used to grow, move and divide into even more plastic-hungry bacteria. Even if not in quite the hand-to-mouth-to-stomach way we normally understand it, the bacteria was eating the plastic.The scientists were led by Kohei Oda, a professor at the Kyoto Institute of Technology. His team was looking for substances that could soften synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, which is made from the same kind of plastic used in most beverage bottles. Oda is a microbiologist, and he believes that whatever scientific problem one faces, microbes have probably already worked out a solution. “I say to people, watch this part of nature very carefully. It often has very good ideas,” Oda told me recently. What Oda and his colleagues found in that rubbish dump had never been seen before. They had hoped to discover some micro-organism that had evolved a simple way to attack the surface of plastic. But this bacteria was doing much more than that – it appeared to be breaking down plastic fully and processing it into basic nutrients. From our vantage point, hyperaware of the scale of plastic pollution, the potential of this discovery seems obvious. But back in 2001 – still three years before the term “microplastic” even came into use – it was “not considered a topic of great interest”, Oda said. The preliminary papers on the bacteria his team put together were never published.

Do you agree?

9 more agrees trigger contact with the recipient

  • Majdi Alnajjar

    37 w

    Promising approach 💡

    • Princess

      37 w

      Such a promising innovation with potential to combat plastic pollution effectively.

      • Ann Nyambura

        37 w

        While this development is promising, it's essential to strike a balance between relying on such breakthroughs and encouraging responsible plastic use and recycling habits in the first place.

        • Saustine Lusanzu

          37 w

          Maybe, it is a good idea

          • rosebellendiritu

            37 w

            Hope it works

          • George Kariuki

            37 w

            I am optimistic in this idea to help reduce plastic pollution.

            • Joseph Githinji

              37 w

              This enzymes and bacterias should be use for the this noble purpose. This is a splendid idea.

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