Scientist Discovers a Plastic-Eating Bacteria That Actually Digests Plastic Pollution
Author: Sophie Hirsh
In January 2023, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) published a new study, looking at the bacterium Rhodococcus ruber. The lead researcher, PhD student Maaike Goudriaan, conducted this lab experiment as a model study, in which she treated a special plastic (containing a certain type of carbon, known as13C) with a UV lamp (acting as sunlight) in a bottle of artificial seawater. The sunlight helped partially break down the plastic into smaller chunks that bacteria would more likely be able to eat. Then, she fed the light-treated plastic to the bacteria — and this resulted in the special form of carbon appearing as CO2 above the water. Essentially, Goudriaan found that the bacterium Rhodococcus ruber "eats and actually digests plastic," turning plastic into CO2 and other substances. As ScienceDaily notes, previous research has already determined that Rhodococcus ruber can create a biofilm on plastic in a natural setting, and that the plastic beneath the biofilm can then disappear. However, "This is the first time we have proven in this way that bacteria actually digest plastic into CO2 and other molecules," Goudriaan stated, as per ScienceDaily. "But now we have really demonstrated that the bacteria actually digest the plastic." This is undeniably a thrilling discovery; that said, Goudriaan assed that "this is certainly not a solution to the problem of the plastic soup in our oceans." As per her findings, the bacteria can only break down around 1 percent of the plastic it is fed "into CO2 and other harmless substances."