• Plastic pollution ocean study
    Photo credit: Paolo Margari via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Two students develop plastic eating bacteria that could save our waters

Home / Weird Science
By Sarah Laframboise
@slaframboise14
Sep 15, 2016,  1:45 PM

The Brains Behind the Discovery

Students from Vancouver, British Columbia, made a revolutionary discovery, a plastic eating bacteria could change the state of plastic pollution in our oceans, which is responsible for the deaths of countless marine animals. Who discovered this plastic eating bacteria? Twenty-one and Twenty-two year old Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao. During their senior year of high school, the two had an idea, one that would solve the pollution problem in their local rivers in Vancouver. 

The students were invited to discuss their “accidental” discovery and claim to fame at a TED talk in 2013. By examining common plastic pollutants, they discovered that the main chemical found in the plastic, called phthalate,  is added to “increase flexibilities, durability and transparency” of plastics. According to the young scientists, currently “470 million pounds of phthalate contaminate our air, water, and soil.”

The Breakthrough

Since there were such high levels of phthalate in their Vancouver waters, they theorized that there must also be bacteria that has mutated to utilize the chemical. Using this premises they found bacteria that did just that. Their bacteria specifically targets and breaks down phthalate. Along with the bacteria, they added enzymes to the solution which further breaks down the phthalate.  The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and alcohol. 

The Future

Even though they are currently finishing their undergraduate studies at universities in the USA, the two are already co-founders of their company, Bio Collection. Their website, Biocollection.com, states that they are soon going to conduct field tests, which will most likely be carried out in China the summer of 2016. In two years the team plans to have a functional commercial process.

Impact (ONLY use the 'Paste From Word' button to safely copy and paste text from a Word doc) 

The benefits of this new bacteria could change the current, depleting state of our oceans and marine ecosystems. Current collections of plastics are time-consuming and require significant means of transportation since plastic takes up a lot of space relative to its weight. Instead, the team plans to use mobile cleanup stations that would digest plastics in a minimum of 24 hours. It is no secret that plastic pollution in our waters causes major problems. This idea would change the way we go about saving the environment and has the potential to restore our oceans completely.

Public Release Date: 
2016 to 2018
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