Since the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, the already massive quantities of plastics and micro-plastics have grown even further in the area, strangling the local ecosystem. The garbage patch, now bigger in size than Alaska, has reportedly been shrinking in recent years, though. This has been confirmed by the research station 34B1, and recent studies give credit for it to a strain of bacteria.
Microorganisms that can break down or even digest micro-plastics are nothing new, reports of them from the 20s to 30s show that they have been around, but previous organisms weren’t efficient enough to use them as the main energy source. Now, however, there are bacteria that can subsist on nothing but plastics and micro-plastics from the Pacific and other areas of the world, and these are so prevalent as to make the garbage patch shrink.
Although biodegradable plastic sounds nice, there is a secret downside to our little helper, and it may become apparent soon enough. Although adapted to live in the ocean, this strain of bacteria may quickly evolve to become terrestrial. While this looks like no big deal at first, many products, machinery, and other objects we rely on are made or largely composed of plastics. For richer countries this may not be a problem: more sophisticated plastics will be introduced to resist the action of the bacteria, but in poorer areas this adaptation might decimate entire economies, as bacteria keep digesting the infrastructure and technology. Only time will tell if this will ever happen, but one thing is for certain. We cannot rely on these cells to help us stop polluting the environment – sometimes we have to take initiative ourselves.