JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Plastics are not forever: Bugs already evolved 30,000 new plastic eating enzymes

flockine

Plastics are a free dinner for life on Earth so it was just a matter of time before microbes evolved to eat it.

A PET bottle normally takes 16 – 48 years to break down, but if it were lunch for microflora it would take weeks instead. Hydrocarbons are ultimately just different forms of C-H-O waiting to be liberated as carbon dioxide and water. The only question was “how long” it would take bacteria and fungi to break those unusual bonds.

Sooner or later all plastic will be biodegradable.

Polyethylene-terephthalate (PET)

The first bacteria known to chew through PET bottles was discovered at a Japanese rubbish dump in 2016. But we had no idea then just how advanced the microbial world of plastic processing was.

Instead of hunting for single bacteria Zrimec et al mined through collected metagenomes of soil and ocean and found not just 5 or 10 new enzymes but 30,000. It appears that they could metabolize at least ten different types of plastic.

And in places where there was more plastic pollution, there were more enzymes. All over the world a whole new ecosystem is rising out of the puddles and bubbles […]