A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate)

Journal: Science

Published: 2016-03-11

DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6359

Affiliations: 5

Authors: 10

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Research Highlight

PET food for bacterium

© Syed Mahabubul Kader /EyeEm/Getty

© Syed Mahabubul Kader /EyeEm/Getty

A bacterium found near a bottle recycling site can thrive by eating plastic.

Plastics were created to be durable and most products cannot be broken down naturally, which makes disposing of the countless tons of plastic pollution accumulated over the past century a major global challenge. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic most widely used in drink bottles, is no exception — only 14 per cent of the 55 million ton produced annually is recycled.

A team including Keio University researchers gathered 250 soil and water samples from a PET recycling factory to search for microorganisms that could feed on films of PET. They discovered a new species of bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, which almost entirely degraded the experimental PET film after six weeks at 30 degrees Celsius. The bacterium uses unique enzymes to break down PET into molecules that it then reuses to grow.

Biological processes like this could be adopted for environmentally-friendly plastic recycling methods, the authors suggest.

Supported content

  1. Science 351,1196–1199 (2016). doi: 10.1126/science.aad6359
Institutions Share
Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT), Japan 0.55
Teijin Ltd., Japan 0.20
Keio University, Japan 0.15
Adeka Corporation, Japan 0.10