The bacteria could help dispose of non-biodegradable trash.
Can bacteria clean this up?
By Rachel Dicker + More
Luckily, there may be a new ally in the fight to clean it up.
A study published this week in Science suggests that a new species of bacterium called Ideonella sakaiensis can effectively synthesize Polyethylene terephthalate or PET, a breakdown-resistant plastic used in common plastic products around the world.
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Biodegradation hasn't been thought to be a viable way of dealing with the plastic, the study explains, but scientists were able to isolate a type of bacteria "that is able to use PET as its major energy and carbon source."
"The bacterium is the first strain having a potential to degrade PET completely into carbon dioxide and water," Kohei Oda, an applied microbiologist at the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan and co-author of the study, told CBS News.
The discovery of the bacteria widens the possibilities for getting rid of this plastic in the environment. The only other organisms known to degrade PET were rare fungi, and bacteria should be easier than fungi to incorporate into PET biodegrading processes.
"We hope that we can develop a technology to handle such a lot of wasted PET," Oda explained.