Bacteria used to turn microplastics into a recyclable blob

Bacteria used to turn microplastics into a recyclable blob

By Lucy Jones  May 5th, 2021

A team of microbiologists are harnessing the power of bacteria to fight microplastic pollution.


Over the past few years we've learned that microplastics are everywhere — in our oceans and waterways, our drinking water and our bodies. But another omnipresent force could offer a solution to the problem of microplastic pollution: bacteria.

The single-celled organisms are found almost everywhere on Earth and their natural tendency to group together on surfaces and form a sticky slime known as 'biofilm' is being harnessed by scientists to remove microplastics from water.

A team of researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University are testing biofilm nets as a way of removing microplastics from polluted water.

“It is imperative to develop effective solutions that trap, collect, and even recycle these microplastics to stop the ‘plastification’ of our natural environments,” Sylvia Lang Liu, a researcher working on the project, told the Guardian.

The research team developed sticky bacteria nets that capture microplastics and form a blob-like structure that can be removed from the water. They then perform some more magic to detach the microplastics from the net using something called a biofilm-dispersal gene, leaving behind a collection of microplastics for recycling.

The nets have not been tested in oceans or waterways yet, but the results of early lab tests are promising.

“This is a really innovative and exciting application of biofilm engineering to address the plastic pollution crisis,” said Dr Joanna Sadler, a researcher from the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study. “One of the biggest challenges in dealing with microplastics is capturing such small particles so they can be degraded and removed from the environment. Liu and co-workers have demonstrated an elegant solution to this problem, which holds great potential to be further developed into a real-world wastewater treatment technology.”

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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