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This Amazon Fungus Can Eat Your Garden Hose!

This Amazon Fungus Can Eat Your Garden Hose!

This might sound like an April 1 story, but no. It’s real!

A group of students from Yale University, part of the institution’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador with their molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel.

The group’s mission was to allow “students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way,” which is of course what all science teachers would love to be able to have their students do.

And They Discovered A Fungus That Can Break Down Plastic

From fastco.exist:

The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and–even more surprising–do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.

Student Pria Anand recorded the microbe’s remarkable behavior and Jonathan Russell isolated the enzymes that allow the organism to degrade plastic as its food source. The Yale team published their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology late last year concluding the microbe is “a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation.” In the future, our trash compactors may simply be giant fields of voracious fungi.

Since the general consensus about plastic products is that they take generations to decompose, if in fact that process ever happens, this is excellent news.

Polyurethane Extremely Common

Polyurethane is a very common plastic used for everything from garden hoses to shoes and truck seats. And it’s likely that all the garden hoses, shoes and truck seats that you’re using today will end up in a landfill, so wouldn’t it be great if this fungus could end up in the same landfill?

Is this the answer to our waste problems?

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Photo Credit: Jeff/Godfrey

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80 comments

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6:23PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

i hope it can be used SAFELY to rid the world of all the plastic waste we have accumulated

5:57PM PDT on May 28, 2012

To bad they can`t find one that eats Repubicans !!!

8:21PM PST on Feb 23, 2012

I would think twice or three times before bring this to the U.S. or anywhere else. If it escapes it's confines it could destroy lots of useful things. Would you want it to eat the tires on your car or your plastic lawn furniture? What about the vinyl siding on lots of homes? I say leave it where it is, I don't want it anywhere near my home or city!!

4:07AM PST on Feb 14, 2012

That's pretty cool!
However I do think that the growth would be as much a problem as a solution to the plastic problem. Throwing the echo system out that much could have disastrous effects after all the fungi could evolve and take over or start eating other types of man made materials.

8:17PM PST on Feb 12, 2012

Interesting article sounds to good to be true, not sure if we would want to introduce it here. Would need a lot more research before going down that road.

2:53PM PST on Feb 12, 2012

Agree with Lyn B....could end up being scary

3:55AM PST on Feb 12, 2012

Thanks for sharing

1:13PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

Maybe people just start recycling plastic and other materials...

11:03AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

This is cool, but I can see people using it as an excuse to keep going with business as usual.

10:30PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

Interesting idea, but what happens when it escapes the landfills and adapts to aerobic conditions and starts eating the plastic in airplanes in the middle of their flight, for example. I can imagine go to work and getting there without soles on my shoes...

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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Kathleen J. Kathleen is currently the Activism Coordinator at Care2. more
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