The mass production of plastic and the insignificant or improper management of its waste have become environmental problems of the first order. The search for solutions should include all kinds of alternatives, even the most common a priori Unbelievable.
Two of the previous issues to consider are the existence of a long list of plastics (high molecular weight organic polymers generally manufactured from petroleum derivatives), and characteristics common to most of these materials such as tough or non-biodegradable (they are non-biodegradable). It decomposes into the chemical elements of which it is composed by the action of biological factors such as microorganisms, plants or animals).
In recent years, many microorganisms and small animals that are able to feed on plastic or break down a large part of its synthetic compounds have been studied.
A study published last July by twelve Austrian researchers in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology It brings a new dimension to this kind of possible solution to the problem of plastic waste.
Although the possible future application of this proposal opens many unknowns, this team headed by Felice Quartinello, from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Austria), has verified in the laboratory that the microbiome (a group of microbes: bacteria, archaea and viruses) fungi and protists) naturally present in the rumen (one of the esophageal chambers of the digestive system of ruminants) of cows grazing in alpine meadows are able to degrade the three types of polyesters analyzed: PET (polyethylene), PBAT (poly(butyl adiabat-terephthalate) ) and PEF (Polyethylene Furanoate).
Scientists suspected that some of the microorganisms in the rumen could be useful in decomposing synthetic plastic waste because their diet – in the case of cows grazing on alpine meadows – already contains natural vegetable polyester.
In this case, it would not be a proposal to introduce synthetic plastics into cow feed, but to use the rumen of already slaughtered cattle (which are not currently used in slaughterhouses) to extract products that can be used to degrade plastic.
Actus Mer / Sea News: Better Together: The microbial rumen community as a biological toolbox for the decomposition of synthetic polyesters – Tweet embed https://t.co/7flMGcr2j4 pic.twitter.com/gCZmE79sJ9
– JeromeOLLIER 2 July 2021
“A huge microbial community lives in the rumen network and is responsible for food digestion in animals,” explains Professor Doris Rebich, from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, “so we suspect that some biological activities could also be used for polyester hydrolysis,” a species from the chemical reaction that leads to decomposition. In other words, these microorganisms can actually break down similar materials, which is why the study’s authors thought they could also break down plastic.
Rebic and colleagues analyzed three types of polyester. The first, polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET, is a synthetic polymer commonly used in textiles and packaging. The other two types consist of a biodegradable plastic often used in biodegradable plastic bags (polybutylene adiabati terephthalate, PBAT) and a third biomaterial (polyethylene furanoate, PEF) made from renewable resources.
They obtained liquid from the rumen of a slaughterhouse in Austria to obtain the microorganisms they were testing. They then incubated this liquid with the three types of plastic they were testing – powder and film – to understand how effectively the plastic breaks down.
Because of the large amount of rumen that accumulates in slaughterhouses, it will be easy to imagine its application in the waste field
The results have been published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology It indicates that the three plastics can be degraded by microorganisms in the cow’s stomach.
Compared with similar research done examining individual microorganisms, Rebic and colleagues found that rumen fluid was more potent, which may indicate that its microbial community may have a synergistic advantage: that the mixture of enzymes, rather than one specific enzyme, is what makes the difference.
While his work has only been done on a laboratory scale, Rebic says: “Given the large amount of rumen that accumulates every day in slaughterhouses, it would be easy to imagine an expansion.”
Rebic acknowledges that the research can be expensive but hopes to be able to secure funding for further advances in this area.