Friday, September 26, 2008

Science is So Cool: Plastic-Eating-Bacteria Edition

So we all know by now, plastic sucks. It leaches causing all sorts of weird diseases including obesity, is taking over the Pacific Ocean, is thrown away more than 60 million times a day filling up our landfills....need I go on? ( I can, on this subject. Possibly for days!)

So, what's a brilliant, problem-solving scientist to do? Figure out how a bacteria, who's preferred snack of choice is already plastic, to gobble it up faster while producing a bi product that can be used to make recycled plastics. I mean serioulsy! How cool is THAT?!?!

Here's the real info:

...scientists around the world are working on ways to enlist bacterial help in
green technology. A crew from University College Dublin in Ireland has devised a
way to put bacteria to use in recycling plastic into better quality versions
than the lowly PET we're used to.

...Using a different approach, New Zealander Matthew Darby made the mother of all toasty machines to recycle previously-unrecyclable plastic.

One of the big problems with plastic recycling is that the end result is polyethylene terephthalate--a fairly low-grade plastic that isn't as desired as polyhydroxyalkanoate or PHA...But PHA is expensive to make. Microbiologist Kevin O’Connor and his team came up with a process...that heated PET to break it down into a gas, a liquid, and a solid. From there, they grabbed some Pseudomonas putida (the bacteria) which were partial to the plastic at a local bottling plant in Dublin. Sure enough, the bacteria took a liking to O'Connor's snack and turned the solid--terephthalic acid--into PHA. The other byproducts will be burned as a heat source to make more of the stuff. While it won't outright solve our plastic problems, this
process should encourage more recycling and open up new markets.
Some people are just geniuses...