Fungi discovered in the Amazon will eat your plastic

Summary

Polyurethane seemed like it couldn’t interact with the earth’s normal processes of breaking down and recycling material. That’s just because it hadn’t met the right mushroom yet.

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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.

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