Even in his 75th birthday, Prof. Jenkins Britton showed great vigor with archetypal panache of injecting a host of pharmacological compounds and cutting up rats then sewing them back. Britton was a man who people always described as a psycho. He was one time spotted feeding the rats with hot molten plastic, but was nippily stopped by his colleague, who was a member of the Ethics and Research Committee (ERC). Little did his colleague know that one time, Britton would solve one of the most fundamental problems in environmental protection. However, this breakthrough was made by accident, just like many other discoveries in the past that have now changed the face of the planet Earth. The discovery of this unique property of Spirillum brittius to decompose plastics was celebrated world over. The problem of plastic pollution had soared to unbearable limits by 2050, and the only option that existed was chemical decomposition with concomitant application of high temperatures. These options have always been opposed as being unsustainable in this 3rd millennium. Following this breakthrough, scientists got more and more interested in studying this inimical bacterium, which later turned to be very friendly and man’s associate in times of disaster.
Spirillum brittius is closely related to Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus which are both known to be responsible for the rat bite fever (CDC, 2011). Rats are usual carriers of these pathogens and the bacteria are considered to be the normal flora in the rats’ pharynx. Transmission occurs through the bites from an infected rat, and the symptoms of this disease may range from lymphadenopathy, fever and swelling around the wound area (Oregon State University, 2012). It has also been observed that in serious symptoms, the infection may lead to arthritis among untreated humans (Elliot, 2007, p.13). While incubation takes only 3 days, it might take up to 5 weeks for the symptoms to appear, and some individuals may be infected without knowing. According to the interview conducted by the Wired Magazine, Britton described the appearance of Spirillum brittius as gram-negative rods after staining them and observing through a microscope. The culture had a very slow growth and required 10 percent of whole blood or 20 percent of serum and 10 percent of CO2 in the liquid culture medium for growth (Sakalkale et al, 2007, p.3). These features merged well with the known already Spirillum moniliformis.
Working on his laboratory in Alabama, Britton was interested in studying a number of compounds that could successfully inhibit the bacterial reproduction at the DNA level (Nelson et al, 2000, p.232). He left the plastic petri-dishes followed with culture media and the normal Spirillum moniliformis bacteria that had been subjected into a number of lead compounds including nitrosamine. Reporting in his laboratory the following day, Britton found that the plastic petri-dishes had been ‘eaten’ and only a small part was left. This occurred to nitrosamine-treated population of bacteria. Nitrosamine has for long been known as a chemical mutagen and microbiologists around the world have used it widely for experimental purpose. The synthesis of the bacterial cell wall was also effectively inhibited, and shared several other internal cell structures with its parent bacterium when examined (Ratbite Fever, 2006). A team of experts around the world unanimously concluded that the action was caused by a mutation which yielded new properties of the bacteria to decompose the plastic. Since the microbe originated from Spirillum moniliformis population of cells, it was named Spirillum brittius, with its second name derived from the discoverer, Britton. To confirm the microbe was present in the sample of petri-dishes ‘eaten’, it required another team of microbiologists to culture the microbe using plastic petri-dishes. Similar results were confirmed.
Britton’s discovery will be remembered in history as one of the most important development in the 3rd millennium. The problem of plastic pollution will come to an end. What seemed not to be biodegradable has finally been possible. Companies have in the past invested heavily in alternative packaging for their products and avoiding plastics which are the cheapest and readily found options. This has led to increase in prices of commodities, a consequence which has befallen the common consumer. This means that by using plastics, prices of commodities are going to decline hence more people will afford things they had problems to budget for.