Listen to Article
Even as we humans keep polluting the world, nature somehow keeps finding a way to help rectify our mistakes. First, there is the molecule that helps reduce global warming. Now, a team of Yale undergraduates may have stumbled something equally amazing - Plastic eating fungi.
Pestalotiopsis microspora is the only known fungus that is currently known to be able to survive solely on polyurethane. Used in common household items ranging from garden hoses to balls to buckets, the plastic is so hard, that it takes thousands of years to break down on its own.
The best part is, that this fungi can do the job even in an oxygen-less or anaerobic environment, which means that it could work perfectly even at the bottom of a landfill.
The amazing discovery was the result of a collaborative effort between three Yale students who were part of the Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory Program, that allows a select group of students to visit Ecuador's rainforest and seek out Endophytes (fungi and bacteria which live inside plants without harming them) that could hold medical or scientific promise. The samples are then brought back to the University's lab in New Haven where they undergo extensive testing to see if they are of any practical or scientific use.
In 2008, a student named Pria Anand gathered specimens for one purpose - To find a microbe that could devour plastic. That's when she stumbled across the Pestalotiopsis microspora. Though she did unveil the incredible properties of the fungi, she was unable to get the desired results by the time she graduated, in 2010.
Lucky for her, Jonathan Russell, a 2011 graduating student, picked up right where she had left off. By combining her work with research performed by another of Pria's classmates, Jeffery Huang, he was able to isolate the enzyme in the fungus that is the most effective in breaking down plastic.
The three published their findings in a scientific journal in late 2011. Hopefully, experts will take it up from here and make the project a reality and help make a dent in what ranks as our worst landfill pollutant!