Filipino scientists discover plastic-eating bacteria in Zambales spring

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bacteria
A water course clogged with plastic waste. File photograph.

Hopes of a solution to plastic pollution have been raised after bacteria capable of “eating” plastic were discovered in a hyper-alkaline spring in Zambales.

Researchers from the biology department of the University of the Philippines-Baguio found four strains of bacteria that are capable of biodegrading low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is commonly used for bags, cling-film and containers such as shampoo bottles.

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According to a study published in the Philippine Science Letter, LDPE is “a commonly-used packaging material that is resistant to degradation under natural conditions” and “contributes to environmental pollution”.

It details how bacteria collected from rock crevices of the Poon Bato spring in Botolan, Zambales, were capable of degrading LDPE. After “consuming” the plastic, the bacteria produced environmentally friendly byproducts.

The bacterial strains were able to use the LDPE as their sole carbon source, reducing the weight of plastic by up to 9.9 per cent after 90 days of incubation.

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The study said: “The results showed that selected microorganisms exhibited great potential for LDPE biodegradation, a discovery which can be used in reducing solid waste currently accumulating in natural environments.”

The Philippines is the third biggest source of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. According to a 2015 study, 6,237,653 kilograms of plastic is wasted every day.

With a growing focus on plastics as a major environmental issue, the researchers said their discovery could help to address the problem.

Specifically, they pushed for continuing research to determine the distribution and population of polymer-degrading microorganisms.

“This study demonstrated the ability of the isolates to degrade polyethylene even in the absence of prior oxidation treatments,” they wrote.

“The results showed that selected microorganisms exhibited great potential for LDPE biodegradation, a discovery which can be used in reducing solid waste currently accumulating in natural environments.”

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