Yale Discovers a Fungus That Eats Plastic

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Plastic is possibly the greatest commercial creation of last 150 years. It's made it into tupperware, saran wrap, toys, car parts, computer parts, smartphones, and shopping bag all over the world. The only problem is that polyurethane is not biodegradable, and recycling plastic can be equated to just turning it into another product, so all that plastic already in landfills will stay there for centuries to come.

Scientists have not found a single way to break down polyurethane--luckily, nature has found a way on its own. Yale scientists recently found a fungus in the Amazonian rainforest that naturally eats polyurethane.

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This is the first fungus species, identified by the Yale researchers as Pestalotiopsis microspore, which exclusively subsists on polyurethane. It can also grow in an anaerobic (air-less) environment, which will hopefully allow it to take root in the deepest regions of our trash heaps.

Jonathan Russell, a Yale scientists of the group, has managed to isolated an enzyme the fungus uses decompose plastic. The scientists hope to use the extracted chemical to eliminate plastic trash and to help in bioremediation projects.

[Yale Alumni Magazine via Fastcoexist and Tree Hugger / Photo: Samuel Mann on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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