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Old 06-01-2017, 08:32 PM
Pilgrim Shadow Pilgrim Shadow is offline
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Plastic-eating bacteria

I hear rumors of using bacteria that eat plastics as a solution to pollution. What would these bacteria excrete?
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Old 06-01-2017, 08:47 PM
Ruken Ruken is online now
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It depends entirely on the plastic. IIRC some organisms can convert polyethylene to ethylene glycol, which can be further metabolized.
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Old 06-01-2017, 08:56 PM
digs digs is offline
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Originally Posted by Pilgrim Shadow View Post
What would these bacteria excrete?
That'd be my third question, after "Would it really work?" and "Are we in the first scene of a bad monster movie?"
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Old 06-01-2017, 10:24 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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What they would excrete would be primarily carbon dioxide and water, same as you and me. Plastics are made of mostly the same elements as living creatures, just arranged a little differently.
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Old 06-02-2017, 06:34 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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So, not one of those plastic fake dog poops?
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Old 06-02-2017, 08:16 AM
dolphinboy dolphinboy is offline
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My first question would be how do we make sure it only eats the waste plastic?
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Old 06-02-2017, 08:35 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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Originally Posted by Colophon View Post
So, not one of those plastic fake dog poops?
Funny - but the plastic fake dog poop is actually what they would eat, since it's plastic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy
My first question would be how do we make sure it only eats the waste plastic?
Even if it does only eat plastic, how do we make sure it only eats plastic we don't want? How do we keep it from attacking plastics we do want (e.g. all the plastic parts in your car)? Dissolving plastics with solvents is fine; the solvent gets used up. But if bacteria use your plastic as fuel to make more of themselves, and can spread just like any other bacteria (e.g. by contact, or on the wind/water), then we could have a problem.

This touches on the "grey goo" scenario that has been a concern of nanotechnology theorists for a long time:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
Grey goo (also spelled gray goo) is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all biomass on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario that has been called ecophagy ("eating the environment", more literally "eating the habitation"). The original idea assumed machines were designed to have this capability, while popularizations have assumed that machines might somehow gain this capability by accident.
Later in the article, we find a quote from another source:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
Quote:
Originally Posted by Engines of Creation
Tough, omnivorous 'bacteria' could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.
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Old 06-02-2017, 08:48 AM
davida03801 davida03801 is offline
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My first question would be how do we make sure it only eats the waste plastic?
That was my 1st thought also and then the realization that all bacteria eventually escapes into the big wide world.
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Old 06-02-2017, 09:05 AM
Ruken Ruken is online now
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That was my 1st thought also and then the realization that all bacteria eventually escapes into the big wide world.
AFAIK the organisms described thus far are all already out in the big wide world.

The last study I saw was waxmoth larvae, DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.060
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Old 06-02-2017, 10:09 AM
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Earl Snake-Hips Tucker is offline
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Mutant 59?
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Old 06-02-2017, 10:45 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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The scariest part about the gray goo scenario is that it's already happened. And then the goo proceeded to turn a fifth of the atmosphere into one of the most dangerous, corrosive substances known.
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Old 06-02-2017, 11:10 AM
gnoitall gnoitall is online now
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The scariest part about the gray goo scenario is that it's already happened. And then the goo proceeded to turn a fifth of the atmosphere into one of the most dangerous, corrosive substances known.
Technically, the goo was probably blue-green.

The "plastic-eating microbe escapes" scenario is a key plot point of Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, where the "space virus" mutates into something that eats plastic and rubber. Including the plastic and rubber seals in its isolation environment. It didn't go all "end of the world" because it mutated again into something benign (lucky lucky ) but that's the first I was exposed to the concept of a plastic-phage microorganism.
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Old 06-02-2017, 11:18 AM
gazpacho gazpacho is offline
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The scariest part about the gray goo scenario is that it's already happened. And then the goo proceeded to turn a fifth of the atmosphere into one of the most dangerous, corrosive substances known.
I read that this wiped out most life on earth at the time.
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Old 06-02-2017, 11:23 AM
race_to_the_bottom race_to_the_bottom is offline
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Forget the "grey goo" scenario. Breaking down PET using bacteria is an industrial process involving vats of bacteria One of the products produced by this process is ethylene glycol, i.e., antifreeze.
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Old 06-02-2017, 11:30 AM
Tim R. Mortiss Tim R. Mortiss is offline
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Quote:
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Mutant 59?
That was my first thought, too!
  #16  
Old 06-02-2017, 04:21 PM
digs digs is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
The scariest part about the gray goo scenario is that it's already happened. And then the goo proceeded to turn a fifth of the atmosphere into one of the most dangerous, corrosive substances known.
Cite? Was this a real event, or some meta-thing I'm not getting?



ETA: Oh, wait, meta-thing: corrosive substance = water?

Last edited by digs; 06-02-2017 at 04:22 PM.
  #17  
Old 06-02-2017, 04:23 PM
Ruken Ruken is online now
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Cite? Was this a real event, or some meta-thing I'm not getting?
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxygenation_Event
  #18  
Old 06-02-2017, 06:00 PM
Yllaria Yllaria is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy View Post
My first question would be how do we make sure it only eats the waste plastic?
I vaguely remember an old SF short story where the plastic eating bacteria got loose and the only thing that kept the company that had produced them from bankruptcy was, 1) the fact that they did manage to corral the little beasties somehow and 2) the discovery that what they excreted was alcohol.
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Old 06-03-2017, 12:33 AM
brossa brossa is offline
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I'll remind everyone that there have been bacteria and fungi that break down cellulose for millions of years, and yet we continue to build structures with wood, wear cellulose-based clothing, etc., without civilization breaking down.

Just because a novel bacterium can digest nylon doesn't imply that it can also thrive without water, or when exposed to UV, or even in the presence of oxygen.
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Old 06-07-2017, 11:27 PM
Pilgrim Shadow Pilgrim Shadow is offline
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Unintended consequences

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yllaria View Post
I vaguely remember an old SF short story where the plastic eating bacteria got loose and the only thing that kept the company that had produced them from bankruptcy was, 1) the fact that they did manage to corral the little beasties somehow and 2) the discovery that what they excreted was alcohol.

I suppose researchers could select breed bacteria to eat certain kinds of plastic.

If you've got a solution, work with it until perfect. You know, Murphy's Law. What do you do when your bacteria start to mutate?
  #21  
Old 06-08-2017, 12:21 AM
FoieGrasIsEvil FoieGrasIsEvil is offline
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When I first started in the car wash business, reclamated water was (and I presume, still is) a big deal. The system we had was a multi-tank, underground system that operated much like a biological filter in a fish tank, except the "bugs" (as VerWater put it, which I must note has completely changed it's environmental/business emphasis) would "eat" the by-products of a car wash system, notably the soaps and waxes.

It was a multi-tank system that the owner of the business employed, costing a fortune, with an initial collection tank, an overflow into an "aeration tank" to reduce odor, and then into a couple of underground "biomass" tanks, where we regularly tossed "vitamin bags" into, in order to keep the "bugs" alive. The biomass was a stratified plastic structure that the "bugs" supposedly clung to, "eating" the waste while allowing reclamated water to pass through. It never worked like advertised, we sued and won.
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