The bacterium is capable of breaking down the chemical compounds of polyurethane. (Image Credit: imageBroker/Alamy)

 

Researchers from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, have discovered a new bacterium, identified as Pseudomonas putids, that produces enzymes to digest the chemical compounds of polyurethanes. The discovery is explained in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

 

The bacterium, which was discovered at a disposal area where plastic was dumped, is the first that is known to digest polyurethane. The polymer is commonly used in everyday objects, including construction materials, footwear, foam insulation, refrigerator components, etc. It's also valued for its lightweight, insulating, and flexible properties, but it consumes a lot of energy to recycle. While it's being broken down in landfills, polymer can release a wide range of toxins, some of which are carcinogenic chemicals.

 

"The bacteria can use these compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy," study co-author Hermann J. Heipieper, senior scientist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig, Germany and co-author of the new paper said. "This finding represents an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle PU products."

 

To help solve ongoing issues with PU waste, the researchers put more focus on microorganisms. Many studies conducted in the past have examined bacteria and fungi strains' ability to eat oil-based plastics, but polyurethane hasn't gained much attention. The researchers made their discovery while examining bacteria communities residing among plastic waste.

 

This bacteria strain is not only capable of consuming polyurethane, but it's also part of a family of bacteria that can survive toxins and harsh environments.

 

"That trait is also named solvent-tolerance and is one form of extremophilic microorganisms," said co-author Christian Eberlein, a scientist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research-UFZ.

 

Genomic analysis of the bacteria enabled researchers to identify potential pathways to metabolize the PU chemical compounds. They also hope that investigating the genome will help to unveil extracellular enzymes that is used by the bacteria to create a compound-degrading biochemical reaction. If future research goes well, scientists could modify the bacteria to degrade polyurethane compounds more efficiently.

 

The drop in nitrogen-dioxide emissions can be seen here, from left to right. (Image Credit: European Space Agency)

 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global air pollution has drastically dropped. A new interactive map developed by Earther that runs on Google Earth Engine and uses data from the European Space Agency's Sentinel SP satellite shows precisely how much air pollution has decreased. The map displays images from before and after the coronavirus spread around the world.

 

It displays nitrogen-dioxide emissions from December 2019 to March 20, 2020, while also showing the striking difference. Bright orange and red hot spots signify high amounts of emissions, which were once alarmingly-high and have eventually tapered off.

 

Places like Milan, Italy have seen a 40% decrease in NO2 levels ever since the country went into lockdown. Other locations, like South Korea and Wuhan, who have struggled with emissions in the past, have also seen a drastic drop due to factories, coal power plants and vehicles not being used.

 

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