A common fixture in refrigerators, furniture and footwear, polyurethane plastic is pretty much always in high demand. Humans worldwide cycle through millions of tons of the durable substance each year, sending the bulk of what’s not recycled to garbage dumps, where it leaks toxic chemicals into the environment as it very slowly breaks down.
For most creatures, a build-up of polyurethane plastic, which can harm the health of wild animals and humans alike, means only bad news. But at least one of Earth’s organisms sees the stuff as a boon: a bacterial strain called Pseudomonas sp. TDA1 that appears to love chowing down on some of the components of this problematic substance.
Other plastic-chomping bacteria have been discovered before, but each seem to have their own taste in types of chemicals they prefer to break down.
A hardy strain by nature, Pseudomonas sp. TDA1 is one of only a few microbes known to be tolerant to polyurethane plastic’s typically toxic properties.
What’s more, the bacteria doesn’t just withstand the plastic’s harsh ingredients: it uses some of them as a food source. After severing chemical bonds that hold the plastic together, Pseudomonas sp. TDA1 uses their energy to further fuel its polyurethane-degrading powers, reports George Dvorsky for Earther.