A Healthy Appetite for Polyurethane
During an expedition to the Ecuadorian rainforest, students from Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry screened several dozen fungi in an attempt to establish their ability to break down synthetic polymer polyester polyurethane (PUR). Published in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology, the team found that “[s]everal organisms demonstrated the ability to efficiently degrade PUR in both solid and liquid suspensions. Particularly robust activity was observed among several isolates in the genus Pestalotiopsis, although it was not a universal feature of this genus.”
Apparently the mushroom can survive on polyurethane as its only food source. What’s more, it can live in a completely anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, such as a landfill. The students believe the fungus is a promising approach to waste reduction, especially since it uses a natural, non-polluting processes to breakdown substances like plastic.
Related: Mysterious SIGNAL From the Large Hadron Collider Hints at Cracks in Physics’ Standard Model
Additional Methods for Taming the Plastic Beast
Even though plastic-eating fungi are truly wonderful, they won’t completely solve our plastic troubles. What we need is a multifaceted approach. There’s always the old standby: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. — which is a step in the right direction and certainly helps on a personal level. However, to really make a dent in our plastic load, we need to get industry on-board with biodegradable/recyclable packaging and products made from materials like hemp paper, cellulose, glass and metal. A petition is available here which urges manufacturer’s and retailers to embrace fully biodegradable packaging, eliminate single-use plastic bags and provide bulk purchasing options.