Microbes in cow stomachs can break down plastic

The rumen is one of the many compartments in which cow stomachs are made. It contains bacteria that can breakdown plastics. This makes it an eco-friendly option to reduce litter.Although plastic is known to be difficult to break down, researchers from Austria discovered that bacteria found in the cow's stomach (one of four compartments within its stomach) can still digest certain types of the ubiquitous material. This could help to reduce litter.Scientists suspected that such bacteria could be useful because cow diets already contain natural plants polyesters. Dr Doris Ribitsch of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna said, "A large microbial community lives within the rumen retina and is responsible for digestion of food in animals." She also suggested that biological activities could be used to produce polyester hydrolysis, a chemical reaction that causes decomposition. These microorganisms are capable of breaking down similar materials so they could possibly be able to also break down plastics, according to the study authors.Ribitsch and her coworkers looked at three types of polyesters. The first, polyethylene Terephthalate (also known as PET), is a synthetic polymer that is commonly used in textiles. The second consisted of a biodegradable material (polybutylene-adipate-terephthalate (PBAT),) and a biobased material, Polyethylene furanoate (PEF), which are both made from renewable resources.To test the microorganisms, they obtained rumen from an Austrian slaughterhouse. In order to determine how well the plastic would dissolve, they incubated the liquid with the three types plastics they were testing (both powdered and in film form).Their results were published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. They found that all three types of plastics can be broken down by microorganisms in cow stomachs. Plastic powders break down faster than plastic film. Ribitsch and her coworkers found that the rumen fluid was more efficient than similar research on single microorganisms. This could indicate that the microbial community may have a synergistic advantage, meaning that the combination of enzymes is what matters, rather that any one enzyme.Ribitsch said that although their research was done on a small scale in a laboratory, it is possible to envision scaling up because of the amount of rumen being produced every day at slaughterhouses. Ribitsch warns that this type of research is costly because lab equipment can be expensive and pre-studies are required to study microorganisms.Ribitsch said that microbial communities are an underexplored resource for eco-friendly resources.###