Eco-Discovery: Breaking Down Plastics with Bacteria by Two Young Chinese Female Scientists

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Miranda Wang & Jeanny Yao have identified a new bacteria that breaks down nasty compounds called phthalates, common to flexible plastics &linked to health problems. And they are still teenagers . . . pretty & eloquent too.M

Once it’s created, plastic (almost) never dies. While in 12th grade Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao went in search of a new bacteria to biodegrade plastic — specifically by breaking down phthalates, a harmful plasticizer. They found an answer surprisingly close to home.

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You should listen to them:

After a visit to a plastic-filled waste transfer station last year, students Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao learned that much of the plastic in trash may not degrade for 5,000 years. Synthesized into plastics are phthalates, compounds that make shower curtain liners, food wraps and other products bendable but may also adversely impact human reproductive development and health.  As plastics slowly break down, these phthalates would leach into the surrounding environment.

So, the two young scientists tackled the problem and ultimately discovered strains of bacteria that have the potential to naturally degrade phthalates. Their work earned a regional first place in British Columbia for the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, as well as a special award for the most commercial potential at the contest’s finals.

“[Wang and Yao] came up with the research idea and the underlying experimental design, which is remarkable for such young people,” according to Lindsay Eltis, University of British Columbia, The Vancouver Sun 5/3/2012.



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