Micro-plastics have become a ubiquitous threat. They can be found on the highest peaks of the planet, at the bottom of the sea, and even in the body of the reader of this article. As they degrade, plastics do not disappear but disintegrate into smaller and smaller fragments that circulate throughout the ecosystem. Moreover, they can have harmful consequences for the health of living beings, especially in the case of marine animals. The very fact that they are such tiny particles, up to one hundred and fifty times smaller than a human hair, is one of the great challenges when it comes to removing them. Until now, special membranes and other expensive technologies were the only choice, but in recent years new strategies have begun to emerge.
Bacteria could be the key
If there is anything more ubiquitous than microplastics, it is bacteria. The metabolic capabilities of these microorganisms already play a key role in water purification and even play a leading role in innovative renewable energies. They can metabolize sulfuric acid and, of course, also polymers. Some of them were already capable of metabolizing lignin or wax, but others have evolved to feed on plastics. Researchers are now exploring the possibility of stimulating this ability to use them as cleaners in ecosystems. The approach is based on locating the most efficient bacteria in this sense to enable treatments that degrade plastics, both in landfills and in seawater. This bioengineering technique, which is still in its early stages, could contribute to eliminating part of the millions of tons of plastic that end up in the seas each year.
The irresistible power of ferrofluids
Ferrofluids, plastic-metabolizing bacteria or plant-based filters are some of the proposals.