Could microbes help turn plastic pollution into useful chemicals?

Retro

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It looks like they can and that would be a good thing, in principle, but...

The thing to temper this though is what happens if the bugs get into the wrong places? Much like diseases or species introduced into the environment to control other species which have then gotten out of control and wreaked havoc, so could this.

Plastics are normally fairly indestructible and hence long lasting from a chemical perspective, which is what we want when they're in use. However, put these modified e-coli bugs on them and they'll break down in short order, destroying whatever item they've made. Inconvenient if it happens to your smartphone, but potentially deadly when it impacts safety critical parts in a car such as brake pipes, for example.

This risk must be considered and mitigated carefully to avoid these problems. However, if history is anything to go by, companies and governments will just see the short term $$ signs of rushing this out without a second thought of the consequences and then we all pay the price to make them rich (richer?) quick.

Millions of pieces of plastic make their way into the sea every day - but could microbes turn them into useful chemicals instead?

Researchers in America have created a microbe which can turn one particular plastic into a chemical which can be used to make perfumes, clothes and even drugs.

The breakthrough is one of several which suggest that much of the millions of tons of plastic which is currently thrown away could be reused.

 

Mars

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The idea of plastic-munching microbes is certainly more then welcomed.
It is also true that this indeed would come with the risk of them getting to munch on their beloved plastics in places we definitely do not want them to.
Yes, it is a problem, and you can see how it could be exploited. Shades of biological warfare; in the wrong hands they would be released to create untold damage. A sobering thought.
 

Retro

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Yes, it is a problem, and you can see how it could be exploited. Shades of biological warfare; in the wrong hands they would be released to create untold damage. A sobering thought.
Bio warfare, great point. It's reasons like these that we can't have nice things. :(
 

Tiffany

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Just read what a global cyber attack would look like, now I'm reading here what bio warfare could look like, good points, both @Mars and @Retro. Kind of grim, ya know? I would love it if our oceans could get cleaned up though!
 

Mars

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It would be a dream to get our oceans clean, and it can probably be done, the sad thing is that there is always another side to the coin, and we just have to make a risk assessment.
 

Tiffany

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It would be a dream to get our oceans clean, and it can probably be done, the sad thing is that there is always another side to the coin, and we just have to make a risk assessment.
It's a real complicated problem to remove trash from the ocean, agreed. I don't know why "they" can't send in large barges to pick up that miles-wide trash pile floating in the Pacific, and bring it back to burn it safely somehow?
 

Retro

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I'll bet it just boils down to money as I can see no technical reason not to do it. Sure, it's large scale, but we have the technology for that.
 

Uncrowned

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It's a real complicated problem to remove trash from the ocean, agreed. I don't know why "they" can't send in large barges to pick up that miles-wide trash pile floating in the Pacific, and bring it back to burn it safely somehow?
I doubt any single nation will own up to taking in all of the plastic waste and storing it. Burning it is not really an acceptable method of removing plastic waste and the current solution of dumping it all in Africa is starting to unravel. So, it would need to be a multi-nation approach, with the largest pile being the Pacific, meaning the US, China, Japan, Korea(s), Russia, Australia etc. all working together to fix a problem that can easily be ignored by any single nation. Odds are low.
 
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