Plastic pollution is out of control. Every year more than 8 million bottles of synthetic polymers enter the ocean, and while some areas are washed away, returned to the beach, or collected in the middle of nowhere, a significant part is not so easily estimated.
Everything that lacks plastic is a mystery, but some researchers suspect starving microbes are partly responsible.
Experiments in the lab have already shown that a species of marine bacteria, known as . Rhodococcus redit can slowly dissolve and digest plastic made from polyethylene (PE).
Usually in the packaging, PE is the most produced plastic in the world, and while it is not clear R. red munches in this wild wilderness, new research confirms at least capable.
Previous studies have found methods R. red floating in films densely packed in marine plastic. What’s more, initial research in 2006 suggested that plastic is underneath R. red was broken at a faster rate than normal.
A new study confirms that this is the case.
“This is the first time that bacteria have been proven to digest plastic into CO2 and other molecules in this way,” says microbial ecologist Maaike Goudriaan from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).
To emulate the natural ways in which plastic dissolves at the surface of the ocean, Goudriaan and his colleagues exposed plastic samples to UV light and placed them in artificial seawater.
“The response with UV light is necessary because we already know that the sun’s rays break down the plastic part on the fringes for biting bacteria,” explains Goudrian.
Then, pain led to tension R. red to the stage
Based on levels of an isotope of carbon released by the decomposition of plastic called carbon-13, the authors estimated that the polymers in the experiments were slipping at a rate of about 1.2 percent a year.
The team can’t be sure how much the UV lamp degraded plastic compared to the activity of microbes, but bacteria clearly played a role. Bacterial samples after the experiment showed increased carbon fatty acid membranes 13 .
The rate of plastic decay noted in the current study is far too slow to completely solve the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, but it does indicate where some of our planet’s missing plastic has come.
“Our data show that sunlight can degrade a substantial amount of all the floating plastic that has entered the oceans since the 1950s,” says microbiologist Annalisa Delre.
Microbes could then enter and digest some of the remains of the Sun.
Since 2013, researchers have warned that plastic microbes are likely to thrive in the ocean, forming a synthetic ecosystem known as the “plastisphere”.
There is also evidence to suggest that some of these microbial communities are suitable for digesting various plastics.
Previous studies have identified specific bacteria and fungi, both on land and in the sea, that appear to eat plastic. But while that science could help us better prevent recycled waste from ending up in the wild, its other uses are controversial.
Some scientists have proposed that we release the equivalent of plastic leaking into pollution hotspots, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Others are not so faithful as to be helpful. Engineered enzymes and bacteria that break down plastic might sound like a great way to make our ventilation disappear, but some experts worry about the effects of unknown components on natural ecosystems and food webs.
After all, destroying plastic is not a necessary good. Microplastics are much more difficult to clean than larger pieces, and these tiny remnants could leach food webs. Filter feeders, for example, mistakenly capture tiny pieces of plastic before they make microbes.
In a 2020 study, each sample of marine products tested on the market in Australia contained microplastics.
What this does to the health of man or animal is completely unknown.
“Prevention is much better than cleaning,” argues Goudriaan.
“And only we humans can do that.”
It was published by the studio Marine Pollution Bulletin.
#Bacteria #plastic #waste #food #source #good #sounds