The newcomer bacteria Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 , discovered by researchers at a recycling facility in Kyoto, Japan in 2016, has emerged as an innovator decomposer that can break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - one of the most common plastics used in bottled drinks and other plastic products. Ideonella sakaiensis evolved a specific enzyme called PETase to break down and digest PET to break down and convert the PET plastic into energy and as a carbon source. It evolved this enzyme most likely while in the waste facility that became it's primary environment. An incredible example of the tenacity of nature to find a way - whatever monstrous materials humans create, nature will find a way to break them down over time. Ideonella sakaiensis Working in collaboration with these bacteria in recycling facilities could offer potential for human-bacterial bioremediation. The physical and molecular properties of plastics are extremely difficult for enzymes to break down, it will take more than the creators of this telluric frankenstein material to dismantle itself back into the earth. Only with collaboration with other species, will this be possible.
What are other organisms that we can genetically engineer to create the PETase enzyme? What would happen if these lived in landfills or in the great pacific garbage patch? Would it alter this already mutant ecosystem further, or help bring it into balance?
Austin, H. P. et al. Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, (2018).
Yoshida, S. et al. A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate). Science 351, 1196-1199 (2016).