About this Research Topic
The global market for plastics is growing continuously. Since their mass-production started around the 1950s, petroleum-based plastics have gradually occupied almost every area of human life. A recent statistical study estimated that humankind has so far produced tremendous amounts of plastics, over 8.3 billion tons. Almost all mass-produced plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyvinylchloride (PVC), polyurethane (PUR) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are derived from fossil fuels. The excellent intrinsic features and benefits of plastics such as light-weight, high-durability, low-cost and the inertness against many chemicals, physical factors and microbial attacks, has proved to be a double-edged sword: on one hand, this enables their versatile applications; on the other hand, however, allows them to persist - largely intact - for a very long period, up to several hundred years, where they are disposed.
Ecological disasters are well identified as consequences: large marine wildlife killed by ingesting plastic bags or getting entangled in fishing nets, distribution of pathogens or persistent organic pollutants by hitchhiking the plastic debris and microplastics. As a warning of the unmanageable problems caused by plastic waste, 'Beat Plastic Pollution' was chosen as the theme of the 2018 World Environment Day.
Recent studies have demonstrated that microorganisms, identified by screening the natural microbial communities at plastic recycling sites or in the gut flora of certain insect larvae, can metabolize PET or facilitate the digestion of PE and PS plastics by the hosts, respectively. Using recombinant microbial enzymes, synthetic polymers such as PET and polyester PUR, can be even completely degraded within days of incubation. Hence, microorganisms and microbial enzymes are emerging as promising candidates for the bioremediation of environmental plastics and the development of novel biotechnological approaches applicable for the industrial recycling of post-consumer plastic waste.
We propose this Research Topic "Microbial Degradation of Plastics" that aims to present and discuss the recent progress and advances regarding the innovative microbiological approaches against plastic pollution. These include, but are not restricted to, the identification and characterization of novel microorganisms and microbial communities which can directly participate in or facilitate the depolymerization and mineralization of the petroleum-based plastics, under environmental or optimized laboratory conditions, or utilization of them towards the production of value-added products. Original works reporting the elucidation and engineering of microbial metabolic pathways and novel enzymes involved in the degradation of synthetic polymers, as well as the corresponding oligo- and monomers are of special interest. Topics may also include applications of novel microbial communities and biocatalysts in the degradation of biodegradable plastics of great commercial value such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA).
Original Research, Review and Mini Review manuscripts are all welcomed. Methods presenting innovative techniques which promise rapid, high-throughput screening of novel plastic-degrading microbes and enzymes, as well as Perspective/Opinion contributing viewpoints on biotechnological recycling strategies of plastic waste towards value-added products are of special interest for this Research Topic.
Keywords: microbial community, synthetic polymers, biodegradation, microbial enzymes, plastic recycling
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