Scientists have been on the hunt for innovative ways to deal with the ever-persistent problem of plastic pollution. And now a new tool to help better manage the issue has emerged, though you’d be hard pressed to see it with the naked eye. Research has shown that certain types of bacteria are capable of degrading common plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Previous efforts to identify enzymes and bacteria that can help degrade different forms of plastic revealed concentrations at industrial waste sites, with useful organisms also turning up in nearby seawater.

These organisms could help to reduce the costs and environmental burden of an enzymatic recycling process for plastic.

Joel Rüthi, Microbiologist

In a cool new twist, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute have discovered similar microbes occurring in location with low temperatures. This finding opens up the possibility that plastic-digesting entities are much more readily available than previously thought. The team of researchers studied several forms of bacteria and fungi found in Switzerland, Greenland and Svalbard, which were discovered living on plastic litter and the surrounding soil.

According to the research team, developing an organic solution to the problem of plastic waste could not only help reduce the current volume of PET materials in the environment, but also minimise demand for virgin plastics as well. This is due in part to the growing family of enzymes, bacteria and fungi helping to break down stubborn plastics and enable them to be more effectively recycled.

Hit the link to read the full study, including details on the team’s efforts to cultivate plastic-munching grow single-strain cultures in cold and dark conditions.

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