Decay of low-density polyethylene by bacteria extracted from earthworm's guts : A potential for soil restoration

Huerta Lwanga, Esperanza; Thapa, Binita; Yang, Xiaomei; Gertsen, Henny; Salánki, Tamás; Geissen, Violette; Garbeva, Paolina


Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is the most abundant source of microplastic pollution worldwide. A recent study found that LDPE decay was increased and the size of the plastic was decreased after passing through the gut of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris (Oligochaeta). Here, we investigated the involvement of earthworm gut bacteria in the microplastic decay. The bacteria isolated from the earthworm's gut were Gram-positive, belonging to phylum Actinobacteria and Firmicutes. These bacteria were used in a short-term microcosm experiment performed with gamma-sterilized soil with or without LDPE microplastics (MP). We observed that the LDPE-MP particle size was significantly reduced in the presence of bacteria. In addition, the volatile profiles of the treatments were compared and clear differences were detected. Several volatile compounds such as octadecane, eicosane, docosane and tricosane were measured only in the treatments containing both bacteria and LDPE-MP, indicating that these long-chain alkanes are byproducts of bacterial LDPE-MP decay.