Isolation of Potential Plastic Degraders using Winogradsky Columns

Claudia Kunney
Claudia Kunney

Claudia Kunney is a rising junior (’23) who is double majoring in Chemistry and Art Studio. Claudia is from San Francisco, California and went to the Urban School before coming to Wesleyan. She loves to paint and do yoga. Claudia is passionate about education and wants to teach both art and science in the future.

Rachel Hsu
Rachel Hsu

Rachel Hsu is a rising junior (’23) and Biology and Psychology double major. She is from Shanghai, China and was Class of 2019 from Shanghai American School. Outside of the lab, Rachel likes to engage herself in competitive but collaborative activities (MOBA games) and develop her knowledge in pop culture and visual media (watching Netflix). After graduation, she plans on raising two cats and zero children.

Chloe de Palo


Plastic pollution is everywhere nowadays. It consists of wrappers, utensils, bottles, and countless other single-use items. Many of these items we use to store food, fluids, and medication even tend to shed nano and microplastics when exposed to heat or chemical stress. Plastic is typically classified as a non-biodegradable substance. However, some bacteria have proven themselves to be capable of metabolizing plastics. In this experiment, we sought to isolate novel plastic-degrading bacteria from soil collected at Long Lane Farm in Middletown, CT. To do so, we modified Winogradsky columns by placing plastic at four different layers in order to separate four types of bacteria based on their ability to process oxygen: aerobic, microaerophilic, facultative anaerobic, and obligate anaerobic bacteria. By the end of the summer, we were able to isolate 146 potential plastic degraders from non-autoclaved soil. We isolated 26 samples from the aerobic layer (S1), 37 from the microaerophilic (S2), 45 from the facultative anaerobic (S4), and 38 from the hypothetically obligate anaerobic (S4). At this stage, we have been able to identify some of the strains (Figure 1 below). The goal of this research is to find an effective method of removing plastic pollutants from the environment. 

Figure 1

Sample nameLocation in Winogradsky ColumnBLAST Result 
Wc-015S3 Bacillus aryabhattai
Wc-021S2Bacillus aerius 
Wc-039S1Bacillus pumilus 
Wc-092S4 Bacillus megaterium
Wc-112S3 Neisseria sicca 


Claudia Kunney (Biology)

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