Plastic Eating Fungus may help in Tackling Garbage Problem

Researchers have found a soil fungus that uses enzymes to rapidly break down plastic materials, an advance that could in the long run help in effectively dealing with the waste problem that threatens our environment.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have found an unexpected solution to the growing plastic problem in the form of soil fungus Aspergillus tubingensis.

Important features:

  • The researchers found the plastic-eating fungus living in a rubbish heap in Islamabad, Pakistan
  • They took samples of soil and various pieces of trash hoping to find finding an organism which could feed on plastic waste in the same way that other fungi feed on dead plant or animal material
  • Aspergillus tubingensis is a fungus which ordinarily lives in the soil. However, during laboratory trials, the researchers found that it also grows on the surface of plastics
  • The fungus secretes enzymes onto the surface of the plastic, which break the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules or polymers

Representational image

Using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, the team found that the fungus also uses the physical strength of its mycelia -- the network of root-like filaments grown by fungi -- to help break apart the polymers

  • According to the scientists, plastics which persist in the environment for years can be broken down by A tubingensis in a matter of weeks
  • The performance of the fungus is affected by a number of environmental factors including pH, temperature and the type of culture medium used
  • "Our team's next goal is to determine the ideal conditions for fungal growth and plastic degradation," researchers said, according to PTI

Impact of the discovery

This discovery could pave the way for large-scale use of the fungus in, for example, waste treatment plants, or for application in soils, which are already contaminated by plastic waste, they said.

The research was published in the journal Environmental Pollution. (Indiatoday in Education)


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