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Another Soil Bacterium Eats Plastic

Yes, we have too much plastic waste, especially polyurethane. Bacteria to the rescue!

New research published in Frontiers in Microbiology describes a newly identified strain of soil bacterium thatís capable of breaking down the chemical bonds found in polyurethane. The new strain, called Pseudomonas sp. TDA1, was discovered by scientists visiting a garbage dump littered with brittle plastics.

Itíll be awhile before we see this bacterium degrading quantities of discarded polyurethane en masse, but itís an encouraging beginning. The new bacterium was analyzed by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, and other institutions.

(Via Gizmodo.)

For the technical description, try the original article:

In order to examine bacterial biodegradability of polyurethanes, a soil bacterium was isolated from a site rich in brittle plastic waste. The strain, identified as Pseudomonas sp. by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and membrane fatty acid profile, was able to grow on a PU-diol solution, a polyurethane oligomer, as the sole source of carbon and energy. In addition, the strain was able to use 2,4-diaminotoluene, a common precursor and putative degradation intermediate of polyurethanes, respectively, as sole source of energy, carbon, and nitrogen.

(Via Toward Biorecycling: Isolation of a Soil Bacterium That Grows on a Polyurethane Oligomer and Monomer.)

Science fiction writers have warned, rather than thrilled, to the idea of tiny micro-organisms that eat plastic. Before it's thrown away, plastic has important jobs to do...

In The Plastic Eaters, Gerry Davis and Kit Pedlar wrote about a biological time bomb that could destroy necessary infrastructure.

"On the surface, in the freezing December air, the smell of the rotting plastic began to hang permanently in the air. A cloying, wet, rotting smell similar to the smell of long-dead flesh. It filled streets and homes, basements and factories. Traffic lights failed, causing irresolvable jams.... The breakdown of plastic spread into Broadcasting House.... A gas main with polypropylene seals on its pressure regulators erupted into flame.... Plastic cold-water pipes softened, ballooned, and burst, flooding into shops, homes, and restaurants.

"Slowly and inexorably, the rate of dissolution increased; failures occurred in increasing succession until, within forty-eight hours, the centre of London had become a freezing chaos without light, heat, or communication."

Earlier still, Michael Crichton wrote about it in his 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain.

"the organism...Mutated to a noninfectious form. And perhaps it is still mutating. Now it is no longer directly harmful to man, but it eats rubber gaskets."

"The airplane."

Hall nodded. "National guardsmen could be on the ground, and not be harmed. But the pilot had his aircraft destroyed because the plastic was dissolved before his eyes."
(Read more about Crichton's plastic-eating bacteria)

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