A Fungus That Feasts On Plastic!

Feb 24, 2012 By Anita R
Anita R's picture

Recently, a group of students from Yale University have unearthed a type of fungus that seems to digest plastics in the jungles of Ecuador. Yes, that is right, a fungus that actually Eats Plastic! Pestalotiopsis microspora, the amazing fungus has been found in laboratory studies to feast on Polyurethane and can survive well in places with little oxygen like landfills.

While this discovery sounds encouraging, it certainly cannot digest the tons and tons of plastic we put out every year. 

From the parts of the computer, to the water bottle, school bag, automobile parts, why even the clothes you wear, they are all made of plastic. What makes plastic very special and useful is that it is very cheap, durable, flexible and strong. But its very characteristics also make it hard to dispose of. Lets take a look at the world of plastics.

So what is Plastic?

Plastic could be any synthetic or semi-synthetic polymer. Think of polymers as many molecules all strung together to form really long chains sometimes forming complicated structures. Poly- means "many" and - mer means "parts" or "segments". The complex formations are held together by a number of repeating structural units sometimes as many as 100,000 atoms per molecule, obtained through a process known as polymerization.

Some polymers occur in nature like gum and rubber. But most of the synthetic kind that we use every day are created in laboratories and consist of hydrocarbons – hydrogen and carbon atoms.

When petroleum is refined, some of its byproducts are treated wth other chemicals to create plastics. Depending on the way the molecules bond together, different types of polymers can be created. Polyesters make synthetic fabric; polyethylene is used to make bottles, toys, food containers and other items of everyday use; polycarbonate makes clear shatterproof windows and eyeglasses; and Polystyrene is molded into the parts used for household electrical equipment casings, etc.

Plastic Pollution

The very properties that make plastic useful, is also the cause of an equally serious problem – pollution. Being cheap we tend to overuse plastic. Most of it is not and cannot be reused and is thrown away. Because it is durable, the plastic dumped in landfills never biodegrade or decompose into its basic elements.

On the other hand, plastic photodegrades -- that is it breaks up into tiny bits because of heat and other natural forces and is never quite destroyed. Photo-degraded plastic is a threat to wildlife and sea creatures when they are mistakenly swallowed as food. Plastics over a period of time leach chemicals into soil and waterways further polluting the environment. Read this article on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

We need to continue to "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" plastics which pose a threat to our planet and its wonderful biodiversity. 

Comments

OliviawithDogs's picture
OliviawithDogs May 27, 2014 - 9:21am

Cool!!!

Lauren T's picture
Lauren T May 26, 2014 - 10:52pm

Awesome and stunning!!!

JENNAH H_C's picture
JENNAH H_C July 31, 2012 - 1:01pm

Wow…
Editor? When you said a piece of plastic, how MUCH plastic?

Vishesh's picture
Vishesh March 21, 2012 - 7:19am

Really cool!!!!

Tessa's picture
Tessa March 6, 2012 - 8:11am
people should try to grow this plant in massive numbers in landfills to eat a lot of plastic
Ella's picture
Ella March 5, 2012 - 10:12am
That is really cool!
blakekeith's picture
blakekeith March 3, 2012 - 4:23pm
wow that is very weird whoa
dolphingirl's picture
dolphingirl March 1, 2012 - 4:05pm

cool!!!!!!!

Clara Roberts's picture
Clara Roberts March 1, 2012 - 1:20am

That is so cool! But kinda weird!

diamond's picture
diamond February 26, 2012 - 12:04pm

It is great that there is the fungi. It will be really useful we just need to find a way to breed it.

sb2's picture
sb2 February 26, 2012 - 8:58am
This is great, now we can continue to use plastic and not worry so much about the environment.
Deepa Gopal's picture
Deepa Gopal February 29, 2012 - 4:48pm

sb2: Well, we certainly did not intend that to be the takeaway in this article :) Even if the fungus can be bred, it would take hundreds if not thousands of years to remove one piece of plastic.

We need to continue to practice the three R's -- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle plastics. There is a new 'R' that is being talked about recently -- Refuse. Some cities are doing away with plastic bags for groceries completely.