Bacteria that can break plastic found in cow’s stomach

Image by Ilona Ilyés from Pixabay.

The amount of plastic that has been produced since the 1950s is equivalent to the weight of one billion elephants. Today, the plastic crisis has reached the point where everyone is already consuming and inhaling microplastic particles. The main contributors of the worsening plastic waste pollution, both in water and air, are single-use containers, packaging, wrappers, and bottles.

Recently, scientists have found microorganisms from a cow’s stomach that can disintegrate plastic in the laboratory. 

They said that due to their diets, the microbes found in the rumen, the largest part in a cow’s stomach, have the ability to break down polyesters. Since a cow’s diet includes a natural polyester that can be found in tomato and apple peels, research presumes that their stomachs carry such beneficial bacteria. 

Each cow makes 100 liters of rumen liquid that are only put to waste every day. The researchers examined this particular liquid to check its effectiveness in degrading three types of plastics. The plastics included PET (typically used in clothing as well as food and liquid containers), PBAT (biodegradable and fossil-based plastic commonly applied in compostable plastic bags), and PEF (a material made from plants or other renewable sources.) All these plastics were tested in film and powder form.

Results reveal that the microorganisms from the rumen’s liquid can break down all three plastic types, but it is the PEF that it breaks down best. The plastics in powder form also broke faster than the film. 

The type of microbes in the rumen’s liquid that are responsible for breaking down the plastic is yet to be identified. It will be produced and used in the recycling process once found. 

The researchers are also in search of the microbes coming from cow’s rumen that can disintegrate other plastic types. 

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