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Genetically Modified Bacteria Could Eat Away The World’s Massive Plastic Problem

Ben Gurion University scientists  have come up with an extraordinary solution: genetically modified bacteria that feed off plastic.

According to think-tank Worldwatch Institute, humans produce about 300 million tons of plastic every year, creating one of the world’s biggest environmental problems – plastic pollution.

“If we continue to consume and then dispose of plastic at the same rate, by 2050 the weight of plastic containers in the ocean will equal the weight of the fish in it,” Ben Gurion University scientists explain.

Developed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, bacteria called Pseudomonas putida are genetically modified to “eat” polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), a common type of plastic that’s proliferating in the oceans and on the land. Essentially, the BGU team (dubbed “Plasticure-BGU“) spreads these bacteria on plastic particles, so that the plastic eventually breaks down, student Nir Zafrany tells NoCamels.

One of plastic’s best features is one of its greatest drawbacks: Its durability makes it virtually non-degradable. An average bottle of mineral water takes roughly half a millennium to decompose, leading to a global accumulation of plastic waste.

Using advanced methods in genetic engineering and synthetic biology, the team aims to increase the productivity of enzymes that are part of the degradation mechanism and form an efficient bacterium that could consume plastic rapidly. The BGU team says it continues “to research and develop the idea until we can efficiently break down plastic.”

Although Zafrany is hesitant to predict when this bacteria-based solution will become scalable, he believes that ultimately, “the solution to the world’s massive plastic problem is biological.”

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