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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Researchers discover plastic-eating bacteria

  Updated: Oct 10, 2019 22:42 IST

Researchers at Shiv Nadar University in Greater Noida have discovered two strains of ‘plastic-eating’ bacteria, something that may lead to eco-friendly alternative clean-up methods for plastic waste worldwide.

The bacterial strains have the potential to decompose polystyrene -- a key component in Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items such as disposable cups, cutlery, toys, packaging materials etc.

The bacterial species namely Exiguobacterium sibiricum strain DR11 and Exiguobacterium undae strain DR14 were isolated from the wetlands adjoining the university.

Commenting on the relevance of this discovery, Dr Rupamanjari Ghosh, vice-chancellor, Shiv Nadar University, UP, said, “What started as a scientific exploration of the wetland in our campus has led to this significant discovery of plastic-eating bacteria. This is a dream solution for breaking plastic in a natural process and making it biodegradable.”

The research team identified that upon coming into contact with the plastic (polystyrene), the bacteria use it as a carbon source and create biofilms. This alters the physical properties of polystyrene and initiates a process of natural degradation with the release of hydrolysing enzymes to break the polymer chains. The team is currently trying to evaluate the metabolic processes of these strains for utilisation in the environmental bioremediation.

This discovery assumes significance given the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to eliminate Single-Use Plastic by 2022. The plastic industry produces approximately 14 million metric tonnes of polystyrene, which is non-biodegradable.

This affects both terrestrial and marine life, e.g., a plastic fork used for 15 minutes can take up to 450 years or more to decompose. In the universe of plastic items used daily, SUP constitutes about a fifth in volume, estimates the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association (AIPMA).

India is practically drowning in plastic – according to industry estimates, the country consumes an estimated 16.5 million tonnes of plastic annually.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) conducted a study in 60 major cities of India in 2018 that observed that around 4059 tonnes of plastic waste is generated from these cities each day. In fact, India’s four metros generate over 1670 tonnes of plastic waste per day which is over 40% of the total plastic waste generated by the remaining 56 cities. With extrapolation of the plastic waste generation data from 60 major cities, it is estimated that around 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India each day.

The research by Dr Priyadarshini and her team has been published in the prestigious scientific journal, RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) Advances, the vice-chancellor said.

Box this pls

•The bacteria initiate biodegradation of ‘Polystyrene’ – the key component of single-use plastic

• Researchers believe the bacterium has the potential to tackle the global plastic waste problem

First Published: Oct 10, 2019 22:42 IST

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