Researchers have discovered two strains of ‘plastic-eating’ bacteria from the wetlands of Greater Noida, an advance that may lead to eco-friendly alternative clean-up methods for plastic waste worldwide. The bacterial strains discovered by researchers at Shiv Nadar University in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, have the potential to decompose polystyrene — a key component in Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items such as disposable cups, cutlery, toys, packaging materials etc.
The bacterial species namely Exiguobacterium sibiricum strain DR11 and Exiguobacterium undae strain DR14 were isolated from the wetlands adjoining the university. Polystyrene is quite resistant to degradation due to its high molecular weight and long chain polymer structure. This is the reason for their persistence in the environment, according to the study published in the journal Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Advances.
“Wetlands are one of the richest habitats of microbial diversity but are relatively unexplored. Hence, these ecosystems are ideal grounds for isolating bacteria with novel biotechnological applications,” said Priyadarshini who discovered the bacteria strains along with her team at the Department of Life Sciences, School of Natural Sciences. The research team identified that upon coming into contact with the plastic (polystyrene), the two isolated bacteria strains use it as a carbon source, and create biofilms. This alters the physical properties of polystyrene, and initiates a process of natural degradation with the release of hydrolysing enzymes to break the polymer chains.
“Biodegradation is a process by which microbial organisms — mainly bacteria and fungi — transform or degrade chemicals introduced into the environment,” Priyadarshini said. The team is currently trying to evaluate the metabolic processes of these strains for utilisation in the environmental bioremediation.