Published on March 10, 2021

AHMEDABAD: A potential weapon in the war against plastic waste has been found here in Ahmedabad. A group of researchers has found tiny plastic-eating bacteria at Pirana, which can be engineered to cut the city’s garbage mountain to size.

In the first such study at the solid waste management (SWM) site in Gujarat, researchers discovered 17 classes of bacteria and 9 fungi that ‘eats’ plastic.

The paper ‘Landfill microbiome harbour plastic-degrading genes: A metagenomic study of solid waste dumping site of Gujarat, India’ was recently published in an Elsevier journal. The authors include a team from Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) led by director Prof Chaitanya Joshi and joint director Dr Madhvi Joshi, and Prof Manish Kumar from IIT Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn).

‘Plastics were energy source’

Samples were collected from 10 different locations and different depths at the site – having a maximum height of 45m. The microorganisms from the site were profiled. The result revealed the presence of bacterial isolates which have been identified globally for degradation of plastic waste like polyethylene (PE) bags or Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polystyrene (PS),” said one of the authors.

For a city like Ahmedabad, earlier studies have pointed at generation of 78gm of plastic waste per capita – equivalent to 18 polyethylene bags daily. In fact, over10% of the 3,700 tonne of solid waste at Pirana is believed to be plastic material.

Experts said that several enzymes present in the genome sequence of the microorganisms showed that the plastic materials were being used as carbon and energy source. “While plastic is not the natural source of sustenance for these organisms, mutation could have led to change in their behaviour,” said a researcher associated with the project. “The bacteria attach themselves to the surface of plastic polymers after oxidization in presence of water, following which, they start disintegrating the PE, PET, or PS.”

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