Researchers in Austria have found that bacteria from a cow’s rumen, one of the four sections of her stomach, can break down plastic.
Scientists suggested that such bacteria could be beneficial because cows have natural plant polyesters in their diets: they are similar in structure to plastic.
The retina of the cow’s rumen contains a huge microbial community: it is responsible for the digestion of food. Therefore, we assumed that their work could be used to hydrolyze the polyester, a type of chemical reaction that leads to decomposition. In other words, these microorganisms can already degrade plastic-like materials, so they can be used to dispose of this kind of waste.
Doris Ribich, Ph.D. from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences
Ribitsch and colleagues reviewed three types of polyesters:
- Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET, is a synthetic polymer commonly used in textiles and packaging.
- PBAT (polybutylene adipate polyethylene terephthalate for short) is a randomly biodegradable copolymer
- polyethylene furanate, a bio-based material made from renewable resources.
Next, the authors obtained a scar fluid, extracted microorganisms from it and applied them to three types of plastics to understand how effectively the plastic would break down.
As a result, it turned out that all three plastics can be destroyed by microorganisms from the stomachs of cows, and plastic powders break down faster than plastic film.