Laboratory experiments confirm that bacteria engulf and digest plastic
(ORDO NEWS) — In a series of experiments, Dutch microbiologists have shown that Rhodococcus ruber bacteria can absorb plastic particles and decompose them into carbon dioxide and other harmless substances.
This discovery does not eliminate the problem of plastic pollution, but it may answer the question of where some of the plastic waste from the ocean disappears.
Scientists from the Royal Institute for Marine Research (Netherlands) have shown that Rhodococcus ruber bacteria are able to absorb and completely digest plastic.
The researchers conducted a laboratory experiment in which they demonstrated how these bacteria break down the plastic available to them into carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and other harmless substances.
Especially for the experiments, the authors made plastic containing the carbon-13 isotope (which served as a marker during the experiment).
When they placed this plastic in seawater with R. ruber and lit it with ultraviolet light, they saw that carbon-13 appeared above the surface of the water as part of carbon dioxide.
Ultraviolet lighting was necessary, because sunlight partially breaks down plastic into small pieces that bacteria can “swallow”.
Previously, it was known that R. ruber in nature can form a so-called biofilm on the surface of plastic, and the plastic gradually dissolves under this biofilm.
But scientists have shown for the first time that bacteria can digest plastic.
According to the authors of the work, bacteria can break down up to 1.2% of plastic per year, the initial content of which was 22.2 mg/l.
However, this figure may be an underestimate, since scientists measured the amount of carbon-13 only in carbon dioxide, but not in other plastic decomposition products.
According to researchers, plastic-digesting bacteria will not be able to solve the massive problem of plastic pollution in the oceans.
However, the new work provides a piece of an unsolved puzzle about where some of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans goes: attempts to trace the path of all the waste that enters the ocean suggest that the fate of some of the plastic remains unknown.
Now scientists plan to calculate how much plastic in the ocean is actually broken down by bacteria.
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