1 Pestalotiopsis microspore is a fungus that can survive and prosper on a diet of only polyurethane – a common plastic that often ends up damaging our ecosystems. It’s the first discovered fungus to be able to survive exclusively on polyurethane.
2 Even better, it can live on polyurethane in an anaerobic, or oxygen-free environment, meaning that it could thrive in a dark and airless landfill environment.
3 The fungus was discovered by a group of Yale students in the jungles of Ecudador. They struck upon pestalotiopsis microspore on a Amazonian rainforest expedition led by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel. They isolated the fungus from plants they had collected, before observing its miraculous plastic-eating ability.
4 The discovery makes the endophytic fungus a candidate for bioremediation projects. Bioremediation is a technique which uses biological organisms to solve environmental problems, for example waste management and neutralising pollutants.
5 The plastic problem on this planet is not going away; in fact, it’s getting worse. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 10-20 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year, with around 268,940 tonnes currently floating in this planet’s seas. This fungus could therefore provide a timely solution.
6 Polyurethane, on which the fungus can survive, has a large variety of uses. It mostly exists in the form of foam, and can be found in domestic furniture, automobile seats, refrigerators, footwear and even tennis grips. Its widespread nature means it’s commonly disposed of through landfill and incineration.
7 The study was documented in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal, which concluded that the project revealed potential for further success with the concept. It reported: “It is possible that activities against other, more recalcitrant polymers could be discovered using this abundant source of biodiversity.”
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