When we’ve started producing materials that weren’t found anywhere in nature, mankind got a giant ego boost; and for good reason, too. We managed to create something that wasn’t here before; something that our floating space rock didn’t create in its 4.5 billion years of existence.
With this ego boost came our desire to stay head, so we kept creating newer and newer technologies, eventually reaching the new technological revolution that is taking place today. Of course, our most notorious such creation was plastic, and the boost in our egos, as well as fair scientific proof had us worry for a while regarding the state of the planet as were covering in the non-biodegradable material.
Life, uh… finds a way
According to a team of researchers from Osaka, Japan, Earth is taking nature back via plastic eating bacteria. Indeed, while going through a strain of bacteria found in a pile of sediments at a plastic bottle recycling plant in Japan, the team discovered that it has evolved to consume the most common type of plastic – PET.
Known by the complicated name of Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, the bacteria can devour polyethylene terephthalate, or PET (or PETE), in only six weeks. PET is found in most plastic bottles, food containers, and even in some polyester fibers. So obviously, using the bacteria to get rid of plastic landfills has crossed a few minds.
As it most often happens, not everything is that easy. The study only showed that the particular bacteria strain can consume a particular type of plastic, but much more testing is still necessary before coming to a practical solution; and that isn’t even the biggest problem.
According to an environmental scientist not part of the study, Christopher Reddy, the durability and variation of plastic isn’t even the biggest issue. He compares bacteria to teenagers, saying that you can try to get to get them to do something, but they’ll do it on their own time, pick the easiest way out, and leave you more frustrated than before.
This is because the team tested how the bacteria worked in a laboratory, in a controlled environment. In nature, the bacteria would most likely choose something else to eat, they’d do it more slowly, and they might not even get the job done properly.
Another issue would be that the bacteria might not work on plastic that’s floating on water, as staying in marine water for a while might have changed its composition. But fortunately, it will most likely be usable in plastic landfills, hopefully soon – as soon as the team finishes their study (and it might still be years away).
Image source: Flickr