As we continue to degrade our planet, we must find new ways to save the environment. Realistically stopping all carbon emissions will be impossible in the next few years and thus is not an option. Instead geoengineering might be the only way to save the planet from climate change. In a similar way the problem of plastic in our oceans must be addressed in this “outside the box” manner as well. While manually cleaning up our oceans is impossible considering the scale, alternatives must be considered. One of those alternatives is plastic degrading enzymes as discussed in Ella’s presentation.
Ella is working with Dr. Jason Somarelli on a genetically altered enzyme that can breakdown plastic. By using error prone PCR, she hopes to find a strain of bacteria that can breakdown plastic using a form of artificial selection of bacteria. A library of different bacterial strains will be made and will be used in testing. If such a strain could be found, billions of pounds of plastic could be degraded helping the fragile marine ecosystem avoid collapse. What surprised me from the presentation was not that by 2050 more plastic will be in the ocean than fish biomass, rather the fact that plastic doesn’t already outweigh marine fish is truly shocking. Saving the oceans is critical for the world not only because it’s the right thing to do. The ocean provides trillions of dollars in economic growth when considering tourism and the wild caught seafood market. Billions of people rely on the ocean for protein and its destruction would be the downfall of millions of people. Somali pirates only exist because the fishing industry in Somalia collapsed do to over-fishing and pollution. Since the fisherman in Somalia could no longer fish, they turned to piracy. Just imagine what would happen if this occurred worldwide.
One concern I do have is what if these plastics escape into society? imagine a world where bacteria is spreading that can destroy plastic. Society would crumble if plastic started to decay. industry and infrastructure would be destroyed leading to our downfall. Scientists for years have tried to fix problems with solutions that make things worse. Blue Tilapia is a fish native to Africa that was introduced in Florida to control algae. That backfired and now the species is causing environmental degradation. Due to erosion caused by bad farming practices, Kudzu was introduced to stop soil erosion. This plant later would spread like the weed it is causing massive forest loss due to its ability to choke out trees. When altering the environment, the consequences are often worse than the original problem. So while degrading plastic seems like a great thing, proceed with great caution.