A new bacteria breaks down PET polymers

Science: Newly Identified Bacteria Break Down Tough Plastic

Michelle Hampson


A new bacteria breaks down PET polymers that make up some water bottles and other common plastic containers. | Flickr/ Adam Cohn/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Researchers have identified a species of bacteria that uses just two enzymes to break down a tough type of plastic polymer. The findings are published in the 11 March issue of Science.

Poly(ethylene terephthalate), or PET, is a very common type of plastic polymer; it’s often used in plastic water bottles and about 56 million tons of PET were produced worldwide in 2013 alone. However, while it may be a convenient material for humans, PET is highly resistant to biodegradation, and the accumulation of PET in ecosystems around the globe, particularly in the oceans, may pollute habitats and harm wildlife. To date, very few species of fungi — and no bacteria — have been found to break down PET. Read more.