Plastic pollution is a major problem worldwide. Both because it is an environmental drama that continues to worsen and because of how complicated it is to solve it.
The political will would make it much easier, no doubt, and the same can be said of social awareness, but the awareness of politicians and citizens seems to be conspicuous by its absence. Although it is also true that activism is achieving greater awareness.
In this post we are going to focus on some unexpected allies, who for now are giving scientists a lot of joy, as the results in laboratory tests are encouraging . If translated into real solutions, it would also be excellent news for the planet and, of course, also for us.
- Worms that turn plastic into antifreeze
- Bacteria that eat plastics
- They find a fungus that degrades plastic
- They can also produce it: bioplastic
Worms that turn plastic into antifreeze
This week has made the news the discovery of an unusual capacity of worms known as wax worms, used as bait by fishermen.
Federica Bertotochini, a scientist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, discovered by chance that worms had managed to escape from their bags by piercing them thanks to a voracious appetite for plastic.
In just a few hours a good part of the plastic had disappeared, specifically polyethylene, finding in the bags ethylene glycol, the main compound of antifreeze. Therefore, the conclusion was obvious: the worms had degraded the polyethylene in an ecological way, without having to wait hundreds of years for its biodegradation .
The discovery will not serve to end the problem of plastic waste using worms, although a way is being sought to synthesize the enzymes used by these animals in order to find practical uses in this regard. That is, they would be produced on a large scale.
Bacteria that eat plastics
Before discovering the biodegradable benefits of wax worms with plastic, scientists had done the same with bacteria.
The bacterium named Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 is one of them. Japanese scientists discovered your good appetite to eat PET or polyethylene terephthalate, the most abundant plastic.
The finding was published in Science in 2016, emphasizing the importance of the fact that bacteria could be used in special facilities for recycling bottles and other PET containers in order to metabolize and enzymatically degrade plastic. Until then, something similar had only been achieved with a few species of fungi, so it could not be considered a viable recycling strategy , they pointed out. However, isolating this new bacterium could have changed things, in his opinion, since it is capable of using PET as its main source of energy. The result is the conversion of PET into two eco-friendly substances. Specifically, in “environmentally benign monomers, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol”.
They find a fungus that degrades plastic
Indeed, fungi can also break down plastic. In 2008, a group of students from the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Yale University, in the United States, found a fungus that can do it in the Amazon rainforest.
One of the students who made this trip, Pria Anand, dedicated herself to investigating the behavior of the samples she had collected in Ecuador in the presence of plastic, and with the help of other colleagues they discovered that a fungus called Pestalotiopsis microspora can degrade plastic. It didn’t even need oxygen to do it, which could be very useful for landfill use, among many other uses.
They can also produce it: bioplastic
Bacteria can not only degrade plastic , but also produce it. One of the most interesting investigations was carried out by scientists from the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), whose study focused on bacteria that release a substance with which bioplastic can be made .
They are the Pseudomonas putida bacteria, which after self-destruction generate a substance that is an ideal raw material to manufacture bioplastic . According to the scientific team, they could be used in the production of bioplastics to reduce the environmental impact and also the cost of production.
Producing greener plastic materials would be a great way to tackle the problem at its roots. Although the inventions dedicated to finding the fastest and most ecological way to degrade plastic are interesting, they are still a patch.
On the contrary, using less conventional plastic, either because different alternatives are found or because bioplastic is used, reduces plastic pollution and tackles the problem in the best way. That is, through prevention. Anyway, well thought out, both approaches are complementary, so they must always be celebrated.
Let’s not forget that the deterioration of the planet also supposes that of our ecosystem and, for example, the pollution of the oceans with plastic ends up damaging our health in a very direct way. Without going any further, the fact that plastic is polluting the seas means insecurity in the food chain.
Or what is the same, a serious public health problem that could end up with a primary source of food for human survival, such as the pantry of the sea.
But it is not all bad news. Returning to those laboratories that do not stop looking for new formulas to end this problem, we find some really surprising initiatives. These are projects that have discovered the potential that bacteria, fungi and worms have to break down plastic and, in some cases, also for the production of bioplastics.
If you want to read more articles similar to Worms, bacteria and molds that eat plastic , we recommend that you enter our Recycling and waste management category .
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