Plastic-Eating Fungus Found

Researchers from Yale University traveled to Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, to look for fungi capable of eating polyurethane plastics, and they say they found more than one. Pestalotiopsis microspora is the fungus they showed to have the most ability to survive while consuming and degrading polyurethane in aerobic and anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments. Covered landfills can be oxygen-free or low oxygen environments, so one potential use of the fungus, (though this use is currently untested and unproven) is to apply it to polyurethane in those environments for bioremediation. The researchers were able to show the fungus degrading polyurethane in a lab environment.

The researchers noted in their study paper, “This investigation established the robust activity for polyurethane degradation under anaerobic condition in which the synthetic polymer served as the only carbon source for the fungus.” (Source: Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic Fungi, Applied Environmental Microbiology)

They were able to select the most effective fungus from their top five fungi, by observing the rate of plastic degradation. Initially they collected 59 fungi endophytic organisms, which are fungi living in plants, – typically without harming them.

The same paper notes more and more plastic is being produced every year and cites 2006′s production at 245 million tons. Polyurethane is not all of that plastic, but is still a significant amount. For example, one industrial facility in China is expected to have the capacity to produce one million metric tons per year.

It is used in cushioning foams, thermal insulation foams, surface coatings, printing rollers, vehicle seats and many other applications. Besides the increase in plastic production, the human population is increasing, so the amount of plastic used and thrown away is likely to grow as well.

This fungus find is just one more reason to protect the Amazon rainforest which contains a profound biodiversity we still haven’t even begun to comprehend or appreciate fully.

Image Credit: Geoff Gallice Wiki Commons
(Above image is from Yasuni National Park.)

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130 comments

Richard B
Past Member 2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Melania Padilla
Melania P6 years ago

Thanks for posting

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Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago

Nature is amazing! We must protect it!

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Debbie L.
Debbie Lim7 years ago

Cool!

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Ellen Mccabe
Ellen m7 years ago

Get them some steroids and lets see what they can really do to make a dent in this mess we humans have made!

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Bill K.
Bill K7 years ago

the best solution is still of course to stop using disposable plastics

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Bruce S.
Bruce S7 years ago

Makes you wonder WHAT ELSE it will "eat" as it evolves.

In the case of something to control plastics, be careful what you wish for.

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Masha Samoilova
Past Member 7 years ago

good or bad?

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Siti Rohana
Siti R7 years ago

a very useful fungus! Please Save the Rainforests!! there is a lot more that is still hidden from our knowledge.

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Adrianne P.
A P7 years ago

Wow!

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