A team of scientists from McPherson University have reported bacterial species with the ability to degrade plastic, thus reducing the presence of this hard-to-eliminate substance polluting the environment.
The bacteria were able to reduce weight of plastic by almost 90%, a three-fold improvement on previous reports on the plastic-degrading bacteria.
Plastic is commonly used as packaging materials; however, it is composed of hazardous compounds mostly derived from harmful petrochemicals. Its indiscriminate usage results in environmental pollution and hazards such as blockage of waterways and drainages, hence the researchers sought to contribute towards reducing these hazards.
The collaborative study by researchers from the Departments of Chemical Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Physical and Computer Sciences respectively, found two strains of an organism with proven ability to use plastic as food. They reported that this action led to degradation of the tough polyethylene polymers (known as LDPE) that are the common form in which plastic is used in the society, but the polymer can take years to degrade.
The study, published in Environmental Technology, a Journal published by Taylors and Francis (https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/NQE2B2D2KYNQQWGFJSUQ/full?target=10.1080/09593330.2023.2210770), a leading international scientific publisher, reports that two strains of plastic-eating bacteria, Proteus mirabilis, was found in a heavy oil-contaminated soil in Osun State, and they broke down the polymer while also reducing available carbon in plastic that can serve as food by almost 50%.
Further use of Scanning Electron Microscope and Energy Dispersal X-Ray, two powerful and precise imaging tools, confirmed significant distortion of plastic the bacteria fed on, further confirming degradation.
Stating the importance of their results, the team concluded that the bacteria can become useful in clean up and promotion of a clean environment. “With this study, we showed that the organisms have viable plastic biodegradation potentials and may be useful in the management of plastic waste, leading to a reduction in global plastic waste and a clean environment.“
Speaking further on the research, Dr. Kayode Olumurewa, a Material Scientist and co-author on the study, further highlighted the importance of collaboration towards improving the society.
“This interdisciplinary research cuts across fields of microbiology, materials science and environmental chemistry, and It is once again a proof that research collaboration across disciplines is pivotal to solving diverse environmental or technological challenges bedeviling our society.”