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Microbes Discovered That Can Digest Plastics at Low Temperatures

Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute WSL have discovered microorganisms that can break down biodegradable plastics at 15C, opening up the possibility of using them in industrial practice. While many microorganisms have already been found to digest plastics, they usually require temperatures above 30C, making them unsuitable for widespread use. The scientists sampled 19 strains of bacteria and 15 of fungi from the Alps and the Arctic, which were grown as single-strain cultures in the laboratory in darkness at 15C and tested to see if they could digest different types of plastic. The researchers found that 19 strains, including 11 fungi and eight bacteria, could digest biodegradable polyester-polyurethane (PUR) at 15C, while 14 fungi and three bacteria could digest the biodegradable mixtures of polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and polylactic acid (PLA). The best performers were two uncharacterised fungal species in the genera neodevriesia and lachnellula, which could digest all of the tested plastics except polyethylene (PE).

Photo Credit: Nik Ramzi Nik Hassan

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