Bacteria to the Rescue

Microplastics are a growing threat to our world. These tiny plastic fragments, less than 5 mm in length, are released from the breakdown of items such as grocery bags, water bottles, microbeads and even synthetic clothing.

Plastic microbes remain in our ecosystems for long periods of time, eventually finding their way into our food chain, from animals that accidentally ingest them.

Now, researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are fighting one bad microbe with another good one, by tapping into the power of a common bacteria.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacteria found in every environment, and it’s known to colonize and collect microplastics. Scientists have engineered its naturally sticky biofilm into a net that causes the microplastics to cling together. Once captured, a biofilm-dispersal gene is triggered that releases the microplastics for collection and even recycling.

Scientists are now scaling up their successful lab experiments to real world environments. They intend this technique to eventually be used in water treatment plants, to prevent microplastics from ever entering our oceans in the first place.

Buying less plastic, buying natural fiber clothing, and employing this common bacteria, will all aid in keeping our world and our food supply cleaner, for future generations.