PET takes decades to break down, making it a stubborn component of litter in our oceans, roadsides and riverbanks.

COURTESY REED COLLEGE - Morgan Vague, a Reed College biology major, shows a test tube filled with plastic-eating bacteria.Reed College student Morgan Vague has isolated and bred three strains of bacteria that can consume and degrade polyethylene terephthalate plastic, known as PET, commonly used in beverage bottles and synthetic fibers.

PET plastic can take decades to break down in the environment, and it often is found in litter along rivers, roads and in the ocean.

A biology major, Morgan conducted the research for her senior thesis at Reed, a private college in Southeast Portland.

"These are very significant results," said Reed professor Jay Mellies, who supervised Morgan's research. "It points the way towards a biological means of degrading plastic pollution."

Morgan plans to spend the summer at Reed experimenting with ways to speed up the bacterial digestion process, and see if it can be deployed on an industrial scale. It now takes months for the bacteria to significantly degrade PET.

To read a full article about the student project by former Sustainable Life editor Chris Lydgate:

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