Plastic Eating Fungi!
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Polyurethane – hard plastics. It is used in gaskets, shoes, hose pipes, and more. Plastic is choking the Earth, it is being strewn all over the land, and it takes 450 years just to start degrading.
I recently read a fantastic article that gave me tremendous hope and also reinforced the idea of the importance of biodiversity. Somewhere in the jungles of Ecuador, a group of students from Yale University, on their annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory, found a fungus that can feed on plastic!
The fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, can feed on polyurethane, the common plastic that dominates landfills and takes hundreds of years to decompose.
A student, Jonathan Russel, was able to isolate the enzyme used by the fungus to degrade the plastic. Not only can this fungus feed on polyurethane, it can do so in anaerobic conditions- which is an environment than does not have oxygen. This is what the conditions at the bottom of a landfill are like. The fungi digest the plastics without releasing carbon dioxide or monoxide, which is a major air polluting problem when plastics are burnt during disposal, making it an even more eco-friendly solution. The team has published their findings in “Applied and Environmental Microbiology”, follow this link to read more about it http://aem.asm.org/content/77/17/6076.full
These inspiring discoveries potentially help us solve one of the biggest environmental problems of our generation- the safe disposal of plastic. The discovery also highlights the importance of biodiversity – our world has such a vast potential of treasures not yet discovered, and if we destroy our forests and lands, a lot more than we can even imagine will be lost.