Fungus that eats plastic may help clean environment

Nowdays, humans are producing ever greater amounts of plastic – much of which ends up as garbage. What’s more, because plastic does not break down in the same way as other organic materials, it can persist in the environment over extremely long periods of time.Scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences have recently identified a fungus which could help deal with our waste problem by using enzymes to rapidly break down plastic materials. However, the tremendous increase in the production and use of various manmade plastics has become a huge threat to the environment: plastic waste can choke waterways and soils, release harmful chemicals, and even poses a threat to animals which can mistake plastic debris for food. Plastic polymers take many years to decompose, as due to their xenobiotic nature – meaning that they did not exist before their synthesis by humans – they are not easily broken down by the bacteria, fungi and small creatures that feed on other waste matter. Even when they do somewhat degrade, tiny particles of plastic may persist in the environment, with unknown consequences for human and environmental health.However, the authors of a new study titled “Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Aspergillus tubingensis” believe they may have found an unexpected solution to our growing plastic problem in the form of a humble soil fungus. Attempts to deal with plastic waste through burying, recycling or incineration are variously unsustainable, costly and can result in toxic byproducts which are hazardous to human health.

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