Bacteria Eats Plastic; What Could Go Wrong?
Bacteria that can eat (biodegrade) plastic have been discovered by a teen-aged science fair contestant. Daniel Burd may have figured out a way for humanity to take care of the five hundred million plastic bags tossed into landfills and the ocean every year.
Burd had an idea; what if nature had already solved this problem? What if there was a microorganism that could do the job? With this question in mind, Burd collected soil samples from landfills and started feeding the bacteria contained therein a constant diet of ground up polythene bags.
He found that a combination of Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas bacterial types worked the best together; he estimates that a complete degradation of a polythene bag could take as little as three months.
(Plastic bag floats just under the surface - Canary Islands)
Plastics are a new trick that humans have played on the environment; if no organisms exist to decompose them, it is estimated that plastic bags and bottle will last for at least 400 years. Even then, the small bits or molecules of plastic may remain much longer.
As soon as I heard about this discover, I started to worry. Bacteria that can eat plastic has already been discussed by science fiction writers, and it's not all good news.
In The Plastic Eaters, Gerry Davis and Kit Pedlar wrote about a biological time bomb that could destroy necessary infrastructure.
"On the surface, in the freezing December air, the smell of the rotting plastic began to hang permanently in the air. A cloying, wet, rotting smell similar to the smell of long-dead flesh. It filled streets and homes, basements and factories. Traffic lights failed, causing irresolvable jams.... The breakdown of plastic spread into Broadcasting House.... A gas main with polypropylene seals on its pressure regulators erupted into flame.... Plastic cold-water pipes softened, ballooned, and burst, flooding into shops, homes, and restaurants.
"Slowly and inexorably, the rate of dissolution increased; failures occurred in increasing succession until, within forty-eight hours, the centre of London had become a freezing chaos without light, heat, or communication."
Earlier still, Michael Crichton wrote about it in his 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain.
"the organism...Mutated to a noninfectious form. And perhaps it is still mutating. Now it is no longer directly harmful to man, but it eats rubber gaskets."
Hall nodded. "National guardsmen could be on the ground, and not be harmed. But the pilot had his aircraft destroyed because the plastic was dissolved before his eyes."
(Read more about Crichton's plastic-eating bacteria)
Let's hope that these plastic-eating bacteria can be kept in the landfills, where we need them.
Via Dissolving the plastic bag problem; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and a reference on this story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/11/2008)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 5 )
Related News Stories -
Hackers Insert Malware Into DNA
'They tied the memory to the bloodline and that was their record!' -
Worms Eat Plastic Now
'Slowly and inexorably, the rate of dissolution increased...' - Davis/Pedlar, 1971.
Mini-Brains In A Dish
'Cultured brains on a slab.' - Peter Watts, 1999.
NASA's Prototype Lunar Greenhouse For Mars And Moon
'In contrast to the airless desolation outside, the interior of this five-acre greenhouse was the one most desirable place to be.' - Raymond Z. Gallun, 1951.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
3D Printed Artificial Muscles Are Stronger Than Yours
Bots don't need to work out.
Fog Computing (AKA Edge Computing) Ad Hoc Networks
'The tiny devices chirped their impulse codes at one another...'
Dubai Scorpion Police Hoverbike Ready To Pull Young Kirk Over
'Is there a problem, officer?'
HEXA Robotic Help For Plants
Then some unknown race had chanced upon the dreamers and decided to "help them out."
Korean Tesla Model S Video 'Excelsior' Is Indeed Our Motto
'Improving man by bringing him close to Nature, while they combine the sensations of coasting with the interest of seeing the country well...'
DIY Robot Shoots You In The Face
'...there were automatic guns that fired ligamine darts.'
A Bayesian Approach to Safe Imitation Learning For AIs and Robots
Um, how about that pension for the humans who serve as the models for robot behavior?
Qoobo Headless Robotic Therapy Cat Was Anne McCaffrey's Idea
'...used as surrogates in intense dependency cases.'
Autonomous Cars Talk To Each Other At MCity
'My cars talk to one another.'
PUFFER Robots - From Philip K DIck's Second Variety?
'Across the ground something small and metallic came, flashing in the dull sunlight of midday.'
Russian Space Garden
'We saw the gardens, flooded with artificial sunlight...'
Targeted Neuroplasticity Training For 'Downloading Skills'
'I know kung-fu.'
U of M's MCity To Feature Asimov's Automatobuses
Should you turn autonomous buses off?
Crazyflie Drone Swarm Technology
'...Programmed to hang in space in a hexagonal grid pattern.'
Our GodBot, Who Art In Cyberspace
Vaal hungers! We must serve him.
easyJet Short-Haul Electric Jets
Have a little faith, will you? They're working on it.
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories