Projects/science - world/may 26, 2020

The bacteria that eats plastic

$500

Raised

71%

funded

$700

goal

-219

days left


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About This Project

The problem of environmental pollution is widely recognized but few people ever think about its extent. In addition, not everyone knows that a huge proportion of all waste is plastic, which does not naturally decompose and therefore can remain at the place of emission for decades. In the last 70 years, over ten billion tons of plastic have been produced in the world. Every year, this number is increased by another four hundred million tons, with its production only gaining momentum.

 

Meanwhile, no more than a billion tons of plastic was recycled, and about the same amount was burned. Huge waste dumps covering hundreds of square kilometers now spread over land and in the oceans. Each year, millions of animals die from plastic pollution: some by swallowing it accidentally, others because of the consequences of pollution such as fires, water body clogging, soil chlorination, etc.

 

Both waste dumps and plastic production are expanding in such a progressive way that scientists have expressed alarm. They said, if the situation does not change radically, very soon there will be no clean space left on the ground: the water will be completely polluted and will become unsuitable for drinking. Dozens of animal species face complete extinction — all because of the constant, uninterrupted release of plastic. Our new hope is the discovery by Japanese microbiologists who have found a new strain of Ideonella sakaiensis bacteria that eats plastic.

How does plastic affect the environment?

Before moving on to discussing Ideonella sakaiensis, let us take a few words to the characteristics of plastic, which make it such a dangerous material. First of all, most types of plastic do not decompose, so it remains in the soil, water bodies, and the ocean for many years. Although biodegradable plastic is considered more environmentally friendly, even this kind of material is contributing to pollution since when decomposed it releases methane, a gas that accelerates global warming. While the plastic thrown into the sea poisons the water with chlorine-containing compounds, the plastic stored on the ground is no less dangerous with the same reagents penetrating from the soil into groundwater or nearby bodies of water, making it unsafe.

 

There are millions of tons of plastic building up on huge islands in the middle of the ocean, that cover more than 10 percent of all beach areas. Unfortunately, plastic does not just lie around like a dirty mass — it also releases toxic agents into the water such as polystyrene and bisphenol A, which can lead to early cancer. A considerable part of the plastic is crushed into tiny particles, so small that it can only be removed from the water by means of a filter. Each year, an average American inhales and drinks about 70,000 microplastic particles. Although its harm is still relatively unexplored, it is believed to damage the liver and intestines. Naturally, microplastics contamination affects not only humans but also animals, especially those living in water.

 

At the same time, animals also suffer from bigger pieces of plastic: sharks, birds, turtles and many other creatures eat plastic by mistake, taking it for food. According to American researchers, 90 percent of seabirds carry plastic foreign objects inside their bodies…

 

Unique Japanese bacteria saving the Earth

According to the Japanese researchers, finding such bacteria in the animal world is a unique phenomenon, since it means the natural adaptation of living creatures to the realities of the outer world. The discovery also opens new horizons in studying bacteria, as the mechanism of action of Ideonella sakaiensis’ enzymes is very different from the ones of previously known bacterial enzymes. But the most important thing is that this breakthrough has a real practical application: the scientists are sure that further research of the strain will make serious progress and will give tangible results that can be put into practice. At a temperature of 30 degrees, the bacterial strain was able to decompose a thin PET film in 6 weeks: this is an excellent performance, however, so far it is not enough for industrial-scale application.

 

Professor Uwe Bornsheuer from University of Greifswald believes that the discovery of Ideonella sakaiensis is a huge step forward in the development of bioremediation, a process involving the recycling of industrial waste using living creatures. In his opinion, the metabolism, and thus the efficiency of plastic decomposition, can be increased genetically by injecting genes responsible for the production of plastic-destroying enzymes into other bacteria that are actively

Is biodegradation of plastic a reality?

  • Until recently, there was no alternative for burning or recycling plastics. Unfortunately, the first one is also harmful to nature due to the huge amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere, while the second one can only be used for certain types of plastic and, regrettably, is not widely practiced in most countries. The importance of the Japanese scientists discovering Ideonella sakaiensis is that they have managed to find a natural plastics exterminator that can biodegrade it without causing any harm to the environment. There were previously known microorganisms capable of performing biodegradation to plastics but their efficiency was almost zero. The scientists at Keio University of Japan have analyzed more than 250 soil samples in the area adjacent to the PET processing plant in Sakai City and managed to identify a strain of bacteria that can break down plastic polymers using special enzymes that were named PETase and METase. By exposing Ideonella sakaiensis to plastic, it was first split into monomers that were then decomposed into ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid.

Meet the Team

Marina Pi

Director

Affiliates

PhD

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Piter Stern

Support

Affiliates

PhD

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Distribution of money

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Stimulus printing and mailing costs 1

$2092

Stimulus printing and mailing costs 2

$1002

Stimulus printing and mailing costs 3

$100

Stimulus printing and mailing costs 4

$30

Stimulus printing and mailing costs 5

$30

Stimulus printing and mailing costs 6

$30

Deadline

  • 3 марта, 2021

    Project Launched

  • 8 марта, 2021

    Project Initial Project Set-Up and Preparation

  • 9 марта, 2021

    Project Initial Project Set-Up and Preparation

  • 11 марта, 2021

    Project Initial Project Set-Up and Preparation

  • 12 марта, 2021

    Project Initial Project Set-Up and Preparation

  • 13 марта, 2021

    Project Initial Project Set-Up and Preparation

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Endorsed by

Garold Essler1

University of Pennsylvania

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Garold Essler

University of Pennsylvania

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed auctor tellus vel erat ultricies. Et mauris pulvinar nulla tellus eget massa in dignissim non. Adipiscing non pretium sed porttitor id mattis. Condimentum id amet sed tempor. Sed urna, et turpis libero volutpat. In vestibulum adipiscing elit sociis mauris interdum. Quis integer etiam dignissim neque eu eros massa purus ornare. Viverra imperdiet vel quam senectus et augue eu et. Aliquam, faucibus maecenas amet facilisis egestas lectus adipiscing pharetra. Mauris urna, tincidunt ornare auctor est suspendisse fermentum consequat euismod. Nunc, tristique velit tincidunt tincidunt cras sagittis tristique amet facilisis. A metus quis vel ullamcorper odio aliquam lectus. Tincidunt adipiscing dictumst congue vestibulum justo, facilisi et lectus. Pulvinar nibh morbi eget eu quisque eu ac, euismod laoreet.