Kristine Lofgren writes: Japanese researchers have discovered a microorganism that literally devours ocean-clogging plastic. The bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis can completely break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic used in bottles and containers. That type of plastic makes up a huge proportion of all the plastic waste in the world, particularly in the ocean. The bacterium uses a pair of enzymes to break down PET and turn it into a food source. The problem is, it takes up to six weeks for the bacterium to completely breakdown a small, low-grade sample of PET. Microbiologist Kohei Oda of the Kyoto Institute of Technology co-authored the study published this week in the journal Science, and he told PBS NewsHour he was "very surprised to find microorganisms that degrade PET" because the plastic has always been thought to be non-biodegradable. Now, scientists just need to figure out how to harness the hungry little bug to recycle plastic and reduce pollution.
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