The National Science Foundation has awarded Assistant Professor of Biology Rosa León-Zayas a $94,231 research grant to analyze how certain combinations of bacteria degrade disposable plastics. The collaboration with Reed College began when investigators discovered that specific microorganisms in soil break down plastic bags and bottles, which are a major source of environmental pollution. Researchers were then able to isolate and reproduce the helpful organisms. The current project continues this line of research, which has been published in the Journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The objective of the current study is to determine what specific genes are responsible for the degradation of these materials.
Willamette undergraduates will also participate in the project, conducting research each summer of the three-year grant period. Participating in a high quality, peer-reviewed study will prepare students for graduate work and productive careers in the biological sciences. Perhaps most importantly, the project will help faculty and student researchers gain an understanding of, and accelerate, the bacterial degradation of environmental plastic pollution.