Bacteria Found to Break Down Plastic


Maxwell Bernstein | April 3, 2020

Researchers in Germany published new findings in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology that open up the possibilities of using biodegradation on hard-to-recycle materials to reduce plastic waste. 

The German scientists discovered a strain of bacteria that has the capability to break down chemicals in plastics called polyurethanes. Polyurethane foams can be found in mattresses, car parts, spandex clothing, shoes, and much more. 

The bacteria, Pseudomonas putida, fed on a specific polyurethane called polyurethane diol, a material that is often used to create coatings and adhesives that prevent corrosion. 

According to Phys.org, polyurethanes are difficult to break down since they are temperature resistant and difficult to melt. The difficulty in recycling these plastics causes them to build up and sit in landfills where they end up releasing toxic chemicals; some of which cause cancer. 

New UI research could help fight pollution with microorganisms


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Concrete and other surfaces are often covered in a thin film of pollution and pollution fighting bacteria and fungi (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 20, 2019

As pollutants like particulates, PCB and pesticides filter out of the air, they often accumulate on surfaces like asphalt or building exteriors. When it rains, the pollutants can run off into water sources.

University of Iowa researchers recently published findings in Earth and Space Chemistry, revealing that a variety of bacteria and fungi live within the film of pollution on such surfaces. Some of those microorganisms are able to digest and break down the pollutants.

Researchers Scott Shaw (chemistry) and Timothy Mattes (civil and environmental engineering) intend to sequence the DNA of these organisms in the future. They will then be able to determine which could potentially be cultivated for fighting pollution in other areas, according to Iowa Now.

CGRER, the UI Center of Health Effects of Environmental Contamination,  the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission funded this research.

Northeast Iowa streams, springs and wells test positive for disease-causing microbes


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E. coli bacteria, which was found in its pathogenic form in northeast Iowa waters (flickr).

Julia Poska| May 3, 2019

Luther College biologists have found disease-causing bacteria and parasites in Winneshiek County water, in some cases at disease-causing concentrations, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Over half of the 48 surface water samples Jodi Enos-Berlage and Eric Baack took at streams and springs tested positive for cryptosporidium, a parasitic protist that can cause digestive distress for weeks. Half of the 22 private wells tested showed cryptosporidium, too, but at significantly lower levels, the researchers said.

Twenty percent of the surface waters tested positive for the Shiga toxin, as well, which is produced by the pathogenic strain of E. coli. At some sites, the concentration of the toxin in just one cup of water would be high enough to cause fever and digestive distress if consumed.

The biologists also tested for indicators of human and animal feces, which could have carried those pathogens into the water via farm runoff or aging septic systems. Baack told IPR he was surprised to find low-level  fecal contamination widespread in surface waters.  The researchers found less fecal contamination in wells.