Quantcast

Could a Seaweed-Eating Microbe Help Solve the Ocean Plastic Crisis?

Oceans
Researchers have found a way to use microbes living on common seaweed to make plastics. Daniela Dirscherl / Getty Images

The use of traditional plastics poses a major threat to the world's oceans: If current trends continue, plastics will outnumber fish by 2050. But the oceans might also contain the solution to this massive problem, researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have discovered.


That solution comes in the form of a microorganism that feeds on seaweed, which researchers have used to create a biodegradable polymer.

"Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans," Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences said in a university press release published by Phys.org Monday. "We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents."

The invention was a collaboration between Goldberg and Professor Michael Gozin of TAU's School of Chemistry, who detailed their findings in the January issue of Bioresource Technology.

Other researchers have developed biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastic, but they all require land and fresh water to grow the plants used to make the alternative plastics, Goldberg explained. The innovation of the Tel Aviv researchers was to develop a process that could be completed in sea water, an important development for land-and-water-scarce countries like Israel.

"There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics," Goldberg said.

The spokesperson at the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi Avigail C. J. Spira celebrated the discovery on Twitter.

This isn't the first time that Goldberg has figured out out to put seaweed to sustainable use. His Laboratory for Environmental Bioengineering has also developed ways to use offshore seaweed farms to create ethanol biofuels, proteins and sugars, TAU's Department of Environmental Studies reported.

For their most recent paper, Goldberg and Gozin used the common seaweed Ulva and the microorganism Haloferax mediterranei. But Goldberg said the next step will be to experiment with different combinations.

"We are now conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties," he said in the press release.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

BLM drill seeders work to restore native grasses after wildfire on the Bowden Hills Wilderness Study Area in southeast Oregon, Dec. 14, 2018. Marcus Johnson / BLM / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 2017 the Thomas fire raged through 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, California, leaving in its wake a blackened expanse of land, burned vegetation, and more than 1,000 destroyed buildings.

Read More Show Less
Brogues Cozens-Mcneelance / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD

Fruit juice is generally perceived as healthy and far superior to sugary soda.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Danielle Nierenberg and Katherine Walla

As the holiday season ramps up for many across the world, Food Tank is highlighting 15 children's books that will introduce young eaters, growers and innovators to the world of food and agriculture. Authors and organizations are working to show children the importance — and fun — of eating healthy, nutritious and delicious food, growing their own produce, and giving food to others in need.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Purple cabbage, also referred to as red cabbage, belongs to the Brassica genus of plants. This group includes nutrient-dense vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Lauren Wolahan

For the first time ever, the UN is building out a roadmap for curbing carbon pollution from agriculture. To take part in that process, a coalition of U.S. farmers traveled to the UN climate conference in Madrid, Spain this month to make the case for the role that large-scale farming operations, long criticized for their outsized emissions, can play in addressing climate change.

Read More Show Less