High School Student Isolates Microbe that Eats Plastic

Posted on May 24, 2008  Comments (2)

WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags

Daniel Burd’s project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

First, he ground plastic bags into a powder. Next, he used ordinary household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt. Then the solution sat in a shaker at 30 degrees.

After three months of upping the concentration of plastic-eating microbes, Burd filtered out the remaining plastic powder and put his bacterial culture into three flasks with strips of plastic cut from grocery bags. As a control, he also added plastic to flasks containing boiled and therefore dead bacterial culture.

Six weeks later, he weighed the strips of plastic. The control strips were the same. But the ones that had been in the live bacterial culture weighed an average of 17 per cent less.

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide — each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.

“This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We’re using nature to solve a man-made problem.” Burd would like to take his project further and see it be used. He plans to study science at university, but in the meantime he’s busy with things such as student council, sports and music.

Related: Bacteria Survive On All Antibiotic DietMicrobes May Use Chemicals to Compete for FoodSiemens Westinghouse Competition Winners 2005

2 Responses to “High School Student Isolates Microbe that Eats Plastic”

  1. Sage
    May 30th, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

    Some questions from a non-scientist: What are the implications of this microbial discovery? Do you think it’s possible to eliminate all our plastic waste? Is there any downside to the process? Can we clean up the ocean deposits of plastic with this? I’d love to hear what you think.

  2. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Teen diagnoses her own disease in science class
    June 11th, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

    […] High School Student Isolates Microbe that Eats Plastic – Siemens Westinghouse Competition Winners – High School Inventor Teams @ MIT by curiouscat […]

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