Plastic-Munching Sea Bacteria

April 2, 2010 | 11:30
Plastic-Munching Sea Bacteria
Plastic-Munching Sea Bacteria
You might have heard of the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch': an island of rubbish and plastics that all converge at one point in the Pacific Ocean due to oceanic currents and waterflow. This 'plastic island' is supposedly HUGE, although the exact size is unknown. The island consists mostly of tiny plastic-particles just below surface, making it impossible to see them by satellite, or even with the naked eye while floating on top of it. This so called 'microplastic' can absorb toxic chemicals and ends up in sea life, doing major damage.

Jesse Harrison of the University of Sheffield started researching a potential solution: using marine microorganisms to render these evil microplastics harmless. What he found out so far is that certain marine bacteria attach themselves to the microplastics, covering the particles completely with a thin layer of so-called 'biofilm' (essentially a bunch of bacteria in a happy group).

Now this may not sound totally ground-breaking just yet, but it's a fresh and innovative point of view. With microbes being the most numerous organisms in the sea, the question is what else they can do for us. According to Jesse Harrison, they're "the most likely of all organisms to break down toxic chemicals, or even the plastics themselves". The research team will continue research on the behaviour of these bacteria in different marine environments. As cleaning up this man-made garbage ourselves seems practically impossible, I'm all for making the bacteria clean up the mess: you rock, marine bacteria!

If you want to know more about the impact of our garbage in the oceans and this Great Pacific Plastic Trash Island, check out the following TED talk by Charles Moore (the captain who discovered the Garbage Patch):

Read more at ScienceDaily
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