About 3.5 million tons of the plastic produced in 2015 was polyurethane (PU). The major problem with this polymer is that it can’t be easily recycled or destroyed. It is too often dumped on landfills and left there to pollute. That is when it doesn’t end in the waters of the oceans or on agricultural fields. When it comes to being a pollution factor and a carcinogen, PU is a master.
It is hard to give up PU. Somehow, it became irreplaceable for so many industries and common uses that unless scientists find a way to make it recyclable, Earth might one day be suffocated by it.
From plastic waste to plastic value using Pseudomonas putida Synthetic Biology (P4SB) is a European Union program that aims to find microorganisms that can make oil-based plastics, such as PU, become recyclable. And that is exactly what German researchers did: they found loving-PU bacteria.
The new bacteria can fight plastic pollution due to polyurethane
Polyurethane is a big part of our evolved lifestyle. It is used in the fabrication of important items such as wheels and tires, high-performance adhesives, synthetic fibers, hard-plastic parts for electronic instruments. It even provides medical aid in the form of condoms.
Pseudomonas sp. TDA1 is the name of the bacteria that will tame PU and transform it into recycling material. It is, as it should be, highly tolerant of toxic organic compounds and other forms of stress. Having to feed onto plastic, that’s a feature one might truly need.
“That trait is also named solvent-tolerance and is one form of extremophilic microorganisms,” said Dr. Christian Eberlein with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ. Pseudomonas sp. TDA1’s next mission will be to tame polyester-based polyurethanes, stated Dr. Hermann J. Heipieper, a scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig, Germany.
The bacteria won’t go to work just yet. There might pass some time before mini-factories capable of transforming oil-based chemicals into eco-friendly compounds will be built, but we are on the right path at least.