Bacteria are starting to eat plastic


Plastic washed ashore in Bali/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Microbes in oceans and soils across the globe are evolving to eat plastic, according to a study.

The research scanned more than 200m genes found in DNA samples taken from the environment and found 30,000 different enzymes that could degrade 10 different types of plastic…

The study is the first large-scale global assessment of the plastic-degrading potential of bacteria and found that one in four of the organisms analysed carried a suitable enzyme. The researchers found that the number and type of enzymes they discovered matched the amount and type of plastic pollution in different locations…

The explosion of plastic production in the past 70 years, from 2m tonnes to 380m tonnes a year, had given microbes time to evolve to deal with plastic, the researchers said. The study, published in the journal Microbial Ecology, started by compiling a dataset of 95 microbial enzymes already known to degrade plastic, often found in bacteria in rubbish dumps and similar places rife with plastic…

Nearly 60% of the new enzymes did not fit into any known enzyme classes, the scientists said, suggesting these molecules degrade plastics in ways that were previously unknown.

So, is this good news or bad news? Or is it just “news”? There are scary bits in the article; but, on the whole, I think we may be onto something useful.

2 thoughts on “Bacteria are starting to eat plastic

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