Researchers in Switzerland discover plastic-eating microorganisms

Researchers in Switzerland discover plastic-eating microorganisms

Researchers in Switzerland have discovered microbes in the Swiss mountains and Arctic region that can digest plastics at low temperatures. Swiss scientists say the microorganisms could become a key tool in the fight against plastic waste. 

Bacteria and fungi can digest plastic at 15 degrees celsius

The microbes that have been found in the Swiss Alps are both bacteria and fungi that can digest plastic while operating at 15 degrees celsius. Until now, only microorganisms that digest plastic at temperatures above 30 degrees have been discovered. Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute (WSL) published their findings regarding the new microbes in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology

The new discovery has ignited hopes that microbial recycling could become a reality in colder climates, making it easier to break down the waste in countries that consume a high amount of plastic -.a recent study by Oceancare found that up to 95 percent of plastics used in Switzerland are not recycled.

Non-biodegradable plastic remains tricky to dispose of

The researchers running the project tested a number of plastics to see what the microbes could digest. These included non-biodegradable polyethylene (PE), biodegradable polyester-polyurethane (PUR) and biodegradable mixtures of polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and polylactic acid (PLA).

Sadly, none of the organisms were able to digest the non-biodegradable polyethlene samples - used in a number of products made by international companies around the world. However, other plastics could be digested by some of the fungi and bacteria - most notably, the plastic used in regular household items like kitchen sponges and other basic utensils.

When asked how a fungus is able to digest manufactured plastic, scientists explained that some microbes have the ability to degrade plastics due to the similarity in structure between polymers and certain plant cells. It is hoped that by further refining the bacteria, scientists may be able to craft an organism that can consume the man-made substance at will.

Image: / novak.elcic

Emily Proctor


Emily Proctor

Emily grew up in the UK before moving abroad to study International Relations and Chinese. She then obtained a Master's degree in International Security and gained an interest in journalism....

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