“Plastic eating” bacteria discovered by Indian scientists

Researchers at Shiv Nadar University in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, have identified two strains of plastic-eating bacteria which have the potential to decompose polystyrene — a key component in Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items such as disposable cups, cutlery, packaging materials, etc.

The bacterial species, Exiguobacterium sibiricum strain DR11 and Exiguobacterium undae strain DR14, were isolated from the wetlands adjoining the University. Upon coming into contact with the polystyrene, the bacteria strains use it as a carbon source to create biofilms — an assemblage of bacterial cells which grow as communities — allowing for targeted action of enzymes that alter the physical properties of polystyrene and initiate natural degradation.

India consumes about 16.5 million metric tonnes of plastic annually. Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic discarded every year, only about 10 per cent gets recycled. Researchers note that the use of both indigenous and genetically-modified bacteria could lead to eco-friendly, alternative clean-up methods for plastic waste.