The Philippines has been undergoing a plastic crisis. The number of accumulated plastic waste of the country has grown to more than 6,237,653 kilograms each day. No wonder, we earned one of the top spots for the world’s contributor of plastic pollution.
For years, environmental advocates have been warning and encouraging Filipinos to do away with the use of plastic. But even with the intense struggle, the number of marine animals dying and suffering because of irresponsible garbage disposal has been growing. This is why, the discovery of the Biology Department of the University of the Philippines is a breakthrough in giving hopes that something can still be done with regards to this seemingly unanswerable problem.
So what is this “Plastic-eating” Microorganism that they have discovered?
- On a researched conducted and published in the Philippine Science Letter last year, DDenisse Yans dela Torre, Lee delos Santos, Mari Louise Reyes, and Ronan Baculi found out that the bacteria that they collected from the rock crevices of the Poon Bato Spring in Botolan, Zambales are capable of degrading plastic.
- Out of the nine bacteria collected, four have shown capabilities of biodegrading low-density polyethylene – a component used in making plastic bag, shampoo bottles, and many other plastic materials.
- These strains of bacteria were able to reduce the weight of the plastic polymer which they were introduced to within the 90-day incubation period.
- According to the Vice President of the University of the Philippines for Academic Affairs, the physical structure and chemical composition of the films have significantly changed upon the introduction of the bacteria.
- The bacteria were able to use the low-density polyethylene as their source of carbon to which they reduced the weight from 5.1% to 9.9% in just 90 days of incubation.
- On a protein analysis conducted, the researchers also found out that these bacteria cells can actually live and proliferate with films as their main source of energy.
- In addition, after having consumed the film, these bacteria have produced by-products that are believed to be environment-friendly.
- Researchers believed that this can be a result of the exposure of the bacteria to the hyperalkaline spring in Zambales, from which they were taken.
- As per studies abroad, organisms that have been thriving in an extreme environment under extreme conditions can possibly develop the capabilities like biodegrading plastics.
- Upon further research, they found out that the natural alkaline spring contains minerals that could have helped in developing these kinds of bacteria. The spring has been found out to be rich in calcium, magnesium, sulfate, chloride, and iron.
As the researchers pushed for the continuity of this study in order to determine the needed distribution and population of the polymer-degrading microorganism in order to formulate “microbial consortia” which is used in biodegrading plastics, may we also take part in the urgent call of nature for its protection and sustainability. May we learn that the solution to this problem is not only on the hands of those environmentalists and researchers but on each and every one.