Leipzig, Germany – A team of scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research has found a soil bacterium that will feed on polyurethane. It might one day prove useful in degrading the polymer, which is difficult to recycle because of its thermoset nature.
The research was carried out as part of the EU programme P4SB, or From plastic waste to Plastic value using Pseudomonas putida Synthetic Biology.
This Pseudomonas strain was isolated from a site that was rich in brittle plastic waste. These types of bacteria are well known for their ability to tolerate toxic organic compounds.
It was able to grow on a PU-diol solution. A genomic analysis was carried out to identify the pathways by which it degrades the plastic, and numerous catabolic genes for aromatic compounds were found.
According to researcher Hermann Heipieper, they are now looking to identify the genes that code for the extracellular enzymes which can break down various chemical components of polyester polyurethanes.
‘The bacteria can use these compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy,’ Heipieper said. ‘This finding represents an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle PU products.’
M.J. Cardenas Espinosa et al, Front. Microbiol. 2020, doi 10.3389/fmicb.2020.00404