Aim: To select a polyethylene-degrading micro-organism and to study the factors affecting its biodegrading activity. Methods and Results: A thermophilic bacterium Brevibaccillus borstelensis strain 707 (isolated from soil) utilized branched low-density polyethylene as the sole carbon source and degraded it. Incubation of polyethylene with B. borstelensis (30 days, 50°C) reduced its gravimetric and molecular weights by 11 and 30% respectively. Brevibaccillus borstelensis also degraded polyethylene in the presence of mannitol. Biodegradation of u.v. photo-oxidized polyethylene increased with increasing irradiation time. Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR) analysis of photo-oxidized polyethylene revealed a reduction in carbonyl groups after incubation with the bacteria. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that polyethylene - considered to be inert - can be biodegraded if the right microbial strain is isolated. Enrichment culture methods were effective for isolating a thermophilic bacterium capable of utilizing polyethylene as the sole carbon and energy source. Maximal biodegradation was obtained in combination with photo-oxidation, which showed that carbonyl residues formed by photo-oxidation play a role in biodegradation. Brevibaccillus borstelensis also degraded the CH2 backbone of nonirradiated polyethylene. Significance and Impact of the Study: Biodegradation of polyethylene by a single bacterial strain contributes to our understanding of the process and the factors affecting polyethylene biodegradation.
- Brevibacillus borstelensis
- Thermophilic bacteria
- u.v. photo-oxidation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology