Karl Burkart's story about the 16-year-old science fair winner who discovered a plastic-eating microbe has remained a fixture atop MNN's "most popular pieces" feature since its publication on June 12.  And the comments by our users (some intelligent, some challenging, and some very funny) are bringing back readers as well. 

Here's a sampling of the best:

  • Posted By Anonymous - Fri, Jun 12 2009 at 9:18 AM EST: Simply Amazing
It's good to read stories like these. Things like these make us all aware that there are still kids out there that can and will still make a difference in the global stage.
  • Posted By Alysa - Fri, Jun 12 2009 at 9:57 AM EST: Wow
This is fantastic news. Obviously it shouldn't overshadow the need to keep plastic to a minimum, but to know we could potentially undo all that we have damaged is so wonderful to hear.
Plus the fact an unfunded 16 year old did this in his home is inspiring. Kinda makes you wonder what scientists and scholars have been doing all this time.
  • Posted By Anonymous - Sun, Jun 14 2009 at 7:37 AM EST: Why?
If the plastic is contained, as would be required by a breakdown process like this, then why not re-use it rather than destroy it?
  • Posted By Laniius - Sat, Jun 13 2009 at 7:28 AM EST: Recycling plastic
Recycling plastic isn't all that efficient, so in some cases it might be better to decompose it. Also, you can only recycle it so many times before it becomes useless so this may be a great way to end the cycle.
  • Posted By Anonymous - Sun, Jun 14 2009 at 10:33 AM EST: Consensus has turned against biodegradable plastic
Most scientists have agreed that biodegradable plastic is now a bad idea because of the CO2 that would be released. If you imagine what a "tiny bit of CO2" multiplied by billions would do, you can see that it's now safer for the plastic to remain as plastic... I remember reading a quote similar in meaning to this after an enviornmental conference. Biodegradable plastic was good, but now is bad.
  • Posted By Anonymous - Thu, Jun 18 2009 at 12:48 PM EST: A win, win scenario
If the microbe will consume plastic that floats on the ocean in huge islands of waste, and the byproduct of that action is Co2, then it will feed the Marine phytoplankton that use Co2 as feed and the byproduct of that action is it creates 50-90% of the oxygen we breath, and Phytoplankton feeds most of the creatures in the oceans.
We then have a win/win situation. But again, there needs to be more studies to make sure the microbes don't get out of hand and consume plastic that is still in use, or a way to control its vast appetite and contain the spreading to environmentally favorable substances.
  • Posted By Andrew - Wed, Jun 17 2009 at 5:18 PM EST: Usefulness of Plastics
One of the largest advantages of plastic (the reason we use it *everywhere*) is that it is NOT biodegradable. Developing strains of plastic-eating bacteria is, in my mind, no different than developing bacteria that can more effectively kill people. Plastic is used in hospitals, vehicles, homes, industrial settings....The list goes on. This research should be continued in a setting similar to the settings in which biological weapons are developed.
  • Posted By Anonymous - Wed, Jun 17 2009 at 6:58 PM EST: Useful AND Useless Plastics
It is true plastic is vastly used, but the purpose here is not biodegrading plastic in use... would you call plastic wastes useful? I don't think so... The purpose of this is biodegrading plastic that is USELESS, which is only there polluting our world... You used hospitals as an example... What do you think they do with small plastics objects used for individual patients, use it on someone else? (unless it is a sterilizable object) they throw it away... what happens to plastic bags that were already used? They thrown away (not always)... As you said, the list goes on.
  • Posted By $teve H - Wed, Jun 17 2009 at 7:06 PM EST: Try to explain “useful” and “useless” to the bacteria
I think the point being made was that there is no way for the bacteria to know. Sterile, wrapped plastic isn't the issue. It's plastic in use that could become exposed to the bacteria while STILL in use.

Posted By Anonymous - Sun, Jun 21 2009 at 2:52 PM EST: Solution?

If the microbes were used in a controlled environment (such as a treatment facility that could contain them) there would be virtually no danger of plastic that is still in use being exposed to the microbes. Unless, of course, they somehow escaped... ;)

  • Posted By Anonymous - Wed, Jun 24 2009 at 9:28 AM EST: This boy should have talked to me first.
I could have told this boy that there was a much faster way to dissolve the plastic and too many uncontrolled microbes wouldn't be a problem--It's called Jack Russell Terriers. I have one of these and she can chew and "dissolve" any plastic within 15 minutes. Even the hardest plastic that you will find in things like cell phones and tv remote controls. LOL