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A waste bacterium for our times

Scientists have discovered a bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic, not only breaking it down but using it as food to power the process.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology and identifies a new strain of Pseudomonas bacteria which is known to withstand harsh conditions, such as high temperatures and acidic environments. The bacterium, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane and was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped.

The German researchers, at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig who are behind the discovery, fed the bacterium key chemical components of polyurethane in the laboratory and found the bacteria can use the compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy.

However, they believe that it might be 10 years before the bacterium could be used at a large scale. According to the research, the next step would be to identify the genes that code for the enzymes produced by the bug that break down the polyurethane.