Scientists discover species of bacteria that feeds on polyurethane

A new strain of the extremophile bacteria Pseudomonas could help reduce plastic to landfill

A new strain of bacteria that feeds on polyurethane has been discovered by scientists.

As reported in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Germany have identified that Pseudomonas sp. TDA1 is capable of degrading some of the chemical building blocks of polyurethane.

“The bacteria use these compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy,” said Dr Hermann J Heipieper, Senior Scientist at the centre.

“This finding represents an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle PU products.”

The strain is part of a group of bacteria that are known for their tolerance of toxic compounds and stress generally.

Polyurethane is popular for its lightweight and flexible properties, but is difficult to recycle and destroy being a thermosetting polymer that does not melt when heated; it mostly ends up in landfill where it releases chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic.

The plastic is used in a variety of products from nappies to trainers, while a popular use in recent years has been in polyurethane beauty blending sponges.

While research into the use of microorganisms to break down traditional plastics in ongoing, this marks the first time a solution has been discovered to help decompose this particular material.

Heipieper’s research is part of an EU programme called P4SB (From Plastic waste to Plastic value using Pseudomonas putida Synthetic Biology), which has been developed to find microorganisms that can bioconvert oil-based plastics into biodegradable ones.

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