Date of Award
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology and University Honors
Proteobacteria -- Utilization, Polyethylene terephthalate, Bioremediation, Refuse and refuse disposal
Plastic waste is problematic for marine and terrestrial ecosystems due to the mass production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) single use plastics. What is unclear is a well-thought-out solution to solve pollution problems that will not further damage the environment. Throughout this literature review, I will investigate the role microbes play in plastic degradation, and if plastic eating microbes are an effective solution to the plastic pollution problem. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the chemical name for polyester. It is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that is typically used for food and beverage packaging, and other single-use purposes. The most well understood organism identified to be capable of plastic degradation is the heterotrophic bacteria Ideonella sakaiensis. I. sakaiensis can ultimately break down polyethylene plastics with the enzymes PETase and MHETase, making them potentially effective at mitigating the plastic waste crisis. On the scale necessary to solve the global problem of plastic pollution, relying primarily on plastic-eating microbes is currently unrealistic. Currently, research is branching in several different directions: 1) how plastic affects marine and terrestrial organisms, 2) how plastic enters the human food chain and causes health problems, and 3) how microbes degrade plastic. Future research could likely focus on expanding small-scale experiments on heterotrophic microbes to larger scale processing in an industrial waste facility, or working to combine the high PETase hydrolytic activity with thermostable PHEs to incorporate higher thermostability to PETase.
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Forbes, Megan, "Plastic-Eating Microbes: a New Potential Solution to Waste Mitigation?" (2021). University Honors Theses. Paper 1152.