Japanese researchers discovered a bacterium that eats polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the stuff used to make plenty of single-use plastic products that sit in landfills. The bacterium, named Ideonella sakaiensis, uses enzymes to break down the plastic into carbon and energy sources for the microbe. From Chemical & Engineering News:
To find microbes that could pull PET apart, a team led by Kohei Oda of Kyoto Institute of Technology and Kenji Miyamoto of Keio University screened 250 sediment, soil, wastewater, and activated sludge samples from a PET bottle recycling facility in Sakai, Japan….
The study's first author, Shosuke Yoshida of Keio University, says that a PET pretreatment that would enlarge the polymer's amorphous areas would make waste more appetizing for the bacterium. Also, he notes, it might be possible to engineer the enzymes to make them faster and more practical.
Bacteria Devour Polluting Plastic in Landfills (via SciAm)