Washington: Researchers at Japan’s Kyoto University have discovered a type of bacteria that uses only two enzymes to break down plastic, according to a study published in the journal Science.
After five years of working with microbes and plastics, the scientists identified a bacteria, dubbed Ideonella sakaiensis, that is able to decompose polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a common plastic used in bottles and clothing.
In 2013 alone, the global production of PET was 56 million tonnes, representing a major environmental problem.
While scientists have found a few species of fungi able to decompose plastic, I. sakaiensis is the first known bacteria with the ability to feed on PET.
Ideonella sakaiensis, according to the study, can almost completely break down a thin film of PET in six weeks at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius.
The team at Kyoto University also managed to identify the gene in the bacteria’s DNA responsible for the plastic-decomposing enzymes, using that knowledge to generate new enzymes that successfully broke down PET in the laboratory.