Plastic-eating bacteria found in 'ocean desert,' scientist says
Debris such as plastic and trash, shown on a Prestwick, Scotland, beach, may contain plastic-eating bacteria, findings suggest.
March 30th, 2011
03:24 PM ET

Plastic-eating bacteria found in 'ocean desert,' scientist says

Scientists have found an organism that may be eating plastic in the ocean, according to a report in Nature News.

But whether the bug is green or mean remains to be seen, a scientist told CNN on Wednesday.

It has been proven that microbes can degrade plastic, said marine microbiologist Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. What's significant is that the plastic is being degraded in a nutrient-poor area of the sea, an "ocean desert," Mincer said.

The bacteria, found in a region of the North Atlantic Ocean called the Sargasso Sea, is clearly breaking down the plastic, but scientists don’t know if the byproduct is environment-friendly waste or a toxin. If the bacteria - or its waste - is consumed by larger organisms, the effects could be detrimental to aquatic life.

Examining items such as a fishing line and plastic bag, Mincer discovered the living cells entrenched in the plastic, seemingly gorging on it, he told Nature News.

In any event, the findings suggest the vast "garbage patches" that have been found in parts of the world's oceans and considered largely devoid of life may be full of living communities.

"We are seeing the plastic particles as a type of artificial reef that certain types of microbes can colonize," Mincer said. "Since plastic has a much longer residence time in the water column than any other natural particle in the water column, this could be making a significant impact."

The discovery of environs that encourage plastic-eating bacteria raises larger questions about the organisms'  toll on other aquatic life, Mincer said.

"One of the questions that I am interested in is: How does this artificially introduced plastic that is heavily colonized by microbes influence the rest of the water column microbial balance?" he asked.

The part of the Sargasso Sea that scientists studied is depleted of phosphorous and other nutrients, Mincer said.

"In other words, are the plastic colonizers stealing away phosphorous from others that would normally be receiving this share?"

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Filed under: Environment • Nature • Science
soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. meee

    If it werent for plastic alot of you would still be virgins

    March 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazz7

      ROFL , LOLOLOLOL,that was way too good thanks for the laugjh

      March 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhette, Thousand Oaks, CA

      And I thought mine died of sand burn when I took it to the beach!!!

      April 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ole lady

    Wow I haven't laughed this good in awhile. Thanks guys.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bazoing

      Is this a funny subject or is there some sort of drug outbreak going on? What is funny here?

      March 30, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Herbert

    @J J: No, why work? I live a carefree life. Just waiting for my 8 monthly fraudalent welfare checks. Keep paying taxes, I get part of that, thank you maggot. @Mohamad: I'm listening. Your friend's grandmother...

    March 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Herbert


    March 30, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. satan's sandals

    Should we pose a no-fly-zone on bacteria... or plastic... vote on whether to intervien or let it play out? Launch tomahawk cruise missles at those gawd damn bacteria or let them over run the plastic with their dictator-like qualities.

    March 31, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. CDN Dude

    Having tons of plastic flowing through the ocean currents is pretty serious. I heard that 5 places in the World's oceans
    are piling up with this plastic mess, one being the size of Texas. How can we convince people to stop polluting the
    oceans and recycle this dirty but important product.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
    • anononandon


      April 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. WOT

    Sooner or later the bacteria will be eating us .. I am a biologist.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhette, Thousand Oaks, CA

      and I took a black light to a Holiday Inn Express last night

      April 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Yes. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In the end, we are food for worms.

      April 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jerry

    Now if they could only find a bacteria that eats in-laws and Democrats........

    March 31, 2011 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
    • micmousfan

      Actually there are. But they do not discriminate. We are all fair game.
      : )

      April 8, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  9. Yao Kuang-Hsiao

    Sooner or later the Chinese will make 'bacteria eating' plastics I am Chinese, although not a biologist.

    March 31, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  10. George

    Now if they could only find a bacteria that eats warmongers and out-laws. (Jerry and I see this exactly opposite)

    March 31, 2011 at 4:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. George&Jerry

    George say's "poh-tay-toh".Jerry says invade and occupy the "poh-tah-toe"

    March 31, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. director

    maybe we should live in the present and leave the bac-ter-ia where it belongs ....
    in the burning rings of hell.
    Or is reality too much for you book wurms? and fantasy lovers?

    March 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DNADEB

    @WOT 90% of the cells in us are not us, they are microbes.

    April 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Xenomorph


    April 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dave

    Someone mentioned genetic drift. This will be GREAT when the genes that allow bacteria to metabolize plastic get spread to more varieties of bacteria! Turns out, man vs. nature is a really one-sided fight.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • anononandon

      I eat plastic all the time. And when I drink water I eat all the old drugs the hospitals dump into the water which is poisoned with Chlorine.

      April 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
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