The increasing amount of plastic debris that ends up in our oceans is a cause for big concern for scientists, worldwide. For not only does the synthetic material take hundreds of years to decompose, but it also, kills marine animals who mistake it for food.
Now, newly found bacteria may help alleviate this issue. Discovered by a team led by Tracy Miner from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Massachussets, the microbe was observed in the Sargasso Sea, - the Atlantic Ocean equivalent of the North Pacific Garbage Patch - An area where the flow of the current has brought in over 1,100 tons of plastic debris.
Examined under a highly-sophisticated microscope, the bacteria appeared to have scrapped away the surface and was now living in the pit of the plastic, burrowing its way even deeper, a clear indication that it was 'eating' the plastic.
While that is extremely good news, what Milner and other scientists are not sure is whether the by-products from the digesting this plastic are harmless or introducing even more toxins into the food chain.
This is not the first time a plastic eating microbe has been discovered - In 2009, Daniel Burd, a 16-year old Canadian boy tweaked the bacteria in yeast in a way that they began to break down plastic in our landfills. Even in that case, experts could not ascertain if the digestion of plastic was releasing carcinogens into the environment.
It seems as though this is something we may not be able to find out for now - leaving scientists and the rest of us with an even bigger question - Are these plastic devouring bacteria good or bad for our environment? The only thing they do know for sure, is that it is keeping the amount of plastic debris in the North Atlantic at a steady state, which for now at least, is a postiive.
Resources: nature.com, green answers.com