Boy Discovers Microbe That Eats Plastic
It’s not your average science fair when the 16-year-old winner manages to solve a global waste crisis. But such was the case at the Canadian Science Fair in Waterloo, Ontario, where Daniel Burd, a high school student, presented his research on microorganisms that can rapidly biodegrade plastic.
Plastic, one of the most indestructible of manufactured materials, will eventually decompose, however it takes about 1,000 years. This means there must be microorganisms out there doing the decomposing. Could those microorganisms be bred to do the job faster? That was Daniel’s question which he put to the test by a very simple and clever process of immersing ground plastic in a yeast solution that encourages microbial growth, and then isolating the most productive organisms.
The preliminary results were encouraging, so he kept at it, selecting out the most effective strains and interbreeding them. After several weeks of tweaking and optimizing temperatures, Burd was achieving a 43 % degradation of plastic in six weeks, an almost inconceivable accomplishment.
With 500 billion plastic bags manufactured each year and a Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch the size of Texas that grows more expansive by the day, a low cost and nontoxic method for degrading plastic is the stuff of environmentalists’ dreams.