Plastic has become so much a part of our everyday lives, so much so that they have become indispensable to many. After all, plastic seems to be perfect for packaging food, as it is waterproof as well as flexible, not to mention impervious to all known bacteria. This makes plastic pollution a big issue, but there is hope on that front as researchers have discovered a bacterium which is able to feed on a common kind of plastic that is used in clothing, bottles and food packaging.
This bacteria was discovered to hang around in the debris fields of a recycling plant in Japan, and the species is known as Ideonella sakaiensis, where its namesake was taken from the Japanese city Sakai in honor of where it was found. Shosuke Yoshida, a microbiologist at Kyoto University, shared, “It’s the most unique thing. This bacterium can degrade PET and then make their body from PET.”
Sporting a couple of enzymes which are able to reduce the plastic polymer into smaller pieces, this new bacteria will literally be able to the plastic at any landfill, with carbon dioxide and water as byproducts. Somewhat a similar idea to using certain microbes to eat away at oil spills or at least to contain them, it will be a while before Ideonella sakaiensis will be used as efficiently as possible in cleaning up the earth.