Bacteria are eating plastic dumped in the sea

The mystery of where all the plastic goes after it is dumped in the ocean has long puzzled scientists. At least 14 million tons find its way into marine environments each

year, yet only about one per cent is ever detected in sampling surveys. Now scientists believe they have solved at least part of the riddle. Bacteria are eating it. A

new study by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) has proven that the widespread bug bacterium "Rhodococcus ruber" actually digests plastic, turning it into

carbon dioxide and other harmless substances. “This is the first time we have proven in this way that bacteria actually digest plastic into CO2 and other molecules,” said

Maaike Goudriaan, a doctoral student of NIOZ. “This is certainly not a solution to the problem of the plastic soup in our oceans. It is, however, another part of the answer

to the question of where all the 'missing plastic' in the oceans has gone.”Bacteria could break down at least 1pc plastic each year For the research, the team carried out

laboratory experiments, feeding plastic to the bacteria in seawater after it had been treated with UV light to mimic sunlight. Sunlight is known to break down plastic into

tiny chunks which are easier for bacteria to absorb. The team estimates that the "Rhodococcus ruber" bacteria alone can break down at least one per cent of available plastic

per year. Previous studies have suggested that large amounts of plastic in oceans and seas fall below the surface, where it is difficult to detect. A 2017 paper from

Utrecht University in the Netherlands estimated that around 196 million tons of plastic may have settled into the deep ocean since 1950.