Scientists Have Discovered a Bacteria That's Evolved to Eat Plastic

Scientists Have Discovered a Bacteria That's Evolved to Eat Plastic
Image: Flickr / Nicolas Nova

A team of Japanese scientists has discovered a bacteria that’s evolved to break down and consume PET—one of the world’s most environmentally damaging plastics.

The team discovered the bacteria living on plastic items found in wastewater samples it was collecting. Called Ideonella sakaiensis, it appears to consume a diet made up exclusively of PET, which it breaks down using a pair of enzymes. The bacteria cling to the plastic, then break the plastic down into terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol in a two-step process. They then digest those two substances. PET was only invented about 70 years ago. That means the bacteria must have evolved the ability to consume the plastic over the intervening decades. The results are published in…

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