Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry discovered the first species of fungus known to survive on polyuerthane alone living in the rainforest in Ecuador. Polyurethane is a polymer used in a wide range of products, from hard plastics to synthetic fibers.
Additionally, the fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, can survive in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments, which means that it may be able to be used at the bottom of landfills. One of the primary reasons why plastics like polyurethane are so bad for the environment is because microorganisms typically cannot process it as food, leaving it to take centuries to break down. This new fungus might just change that.
Yale students have isolated the enzyme that enables the fungus to break down plastics. In their report published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, they identified an “unprecedented case of anaerobic growth using [polyester polyurethane] as the sole carbon source” and a “broad distribution of activity” among the fungus.
While reducing human consumption should be a first priority, this fungus might be the solution to dealing with excess waste, especially given that every piece of plastic ever produced has yet to be broken down.
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