Member of The Crypto Crew:

Please Also Visit our Sister Blog, Frontiers of Anthropology:

And the new group for trying out fictional projects (Includes Cryptofiction Projects):

And Kyle Germann's Blog

And Jay's Blog, Bizarre Zoology

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Plastic Eaters

Not Fortean Zoology or even Zoology as such, but one news item I have been awaiting a LONG time...

Fungus That Devours Plastic Might Help Clean The Environment
Sunday, February 05, 2012 10:49
ZME Science
Fungus Eating Plastic
Example of PUR-A plates initially used to screen for polyurethane degrading activity after 2 weeks of fungal growth. (c) Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University

A group of students from Yale University, along with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, were on a routine trip to the Amazon’s Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, when they stumbled across a peculiar type of mushroom capable of eating polyurethane plastics. If successfully applied to landfills clogged with millions of metric tons of garbage plastics, this could have a potentially critical role in cleansing the environment.
Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer which is makes up most of today’s plastics. Although, plastic is recyclable in certain degree, most of the world’s plastic wastes are simply dumped in giant landfills where it simply remains there indefinitely, since it’s not biodegradable.
Pestalotiopsis microspora was showed to to have the most ability to survive while consuming and degrading polyurethane in aerobic and anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments, like those found in waste landfills. Initially the scientists collected 59 fungi endophytic organism, and after a lab analysis they selected Pestalotiopsis microspora as the most effective fungus , by observing the rate of plastic degradation.
“Polyurethane seemed like it couldn’t interact with the earth’s normal processes of breaking down and recycling material. That’s just because it hadn’t met the right mushroom yet,” the authors write in the paper.
Yes! This remarkable fungus can survive dieting exclusively on Polyurethane, without any kind of oxygen. It’s been proven to work extremely well under lab conditions, however, it’s yet to been tested on massive landfills, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that it should work. The same paper notes more and more plastic is being produced every year and cites 2006′s production at 245 million tons. How much of these plastics will end up in the Earth’s soil? Super-fungus to the rescue!
Let’s not forget about the Chernobyl fungus that feeds on radiation either. I for one welcome our new mushroom overlords.
The research was published in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology.
Fungus that devours plastic might help clean the environment is a post from ZME Science. © ZME Science - All Rights Reserved.
Thank you for being a subscriber, Download your very own FREE copy of our recently released e-book "Our Incredible World, Like You've Never Seen It Before".

Now what we need is to bioengineer the marine version and we just might be able to save the poor old world for future generations. Plastic pollution is the single most pernacious and intractible solid waste pollution problem we have been facing. Human waste is at least biodegradable.
Best Wishes, Dale D.


  1. Hi Dale,
    While we should be thrilled by the powers of fungi as environmental cleaners (see the works of independent scientist Paul Stamets e.g. 'Mycelium Running') , we should remember that intractable plastic waste is, nevertheless, a form of sequestered carbon. When fungi breakdown plastic they either set its carbon on the path back to CO2 (aerobic) or methane (anaerobic). Julian Kirby of Friend's of the Earth, pointed this out, saying" ........ because it is inert in landfill, plastic waste buried in the ground is a counterintuitive way of "sequestering" carbon so avoiding it adding to global warming and climate change."
    I saw this in a rather useful article full of nuggets on global recycling statistics. It's at .....

    Cheers ....Will Hansen

  2. Unfortunately the worse problem is that plastic fragments have badly disrupted the oceanic food chain because various living things are trying to eat it and dying afterwards. We have got to get rid of those plastic chips in the ocean ASAP, and forget about the other consequences. The situation is just that bad, we should never have allowed it to get to this much of a problem.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  3. what are the exact byproducts? any toxic? some fungi release toxic excrement. can the cure be as bad as the illness?

  4. My understanding is that there are organic byproducts that can be more easily broken down through natural means as the outcome. I have seen no reports that actually give specifics or chemical formulas for the process.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  5. What if it goes wild and finds that the polyurethane tubing and electrical insulation in my car or house is just as tasty?

  6. Silly question. Why then of course you do without
    Like the next question a few years down the road "How am I to run my auto with the petrol all out" to which the answer once again is, you do without

    1. Are those lenses glass or polycarbonate?

    2. Why don't you email them up at Yale and ask them about that?

  7. I think we need to heed Julian Knight's counterintuitive thought on refractory terrestrial plastic garbage.
    If its buried leave it alone ( the unintended consequences of trying to degrade it may bring worse problems). If it can be recycled/reused - let's do it everywhere and really encourage industries in that direction.
    But you're so right about the marine plastic situation - thousands of styrofoam particles in every cubic meter, 'islands' and windrows of polyethylene sheet, plastic bottles and orphan fishing gear caught up in the central gyres plus the new 'fronts' of floating debris in the Pacific - backwashed from the Great Tsunami of 2011. It is catastrophic for marine ecosystems at all levels.

    However marine fungi are a very diverse lot ( but remarkably under studied) and perhaps there is some real opportunity to find species that could attack the problem of floating plastic and maybe even work with engineering the polyurethane-digesting, enzyme genes, of the Pestalotiopsis microspora and similar 'plasticophiles' .
    In terms of giga-tonnage the CO2 and methane from oceanic plastic decay would effect pH only marginally.
    But that question of toxic by-products must be answered right up front.

    There is a neat little article on marine fungi here:

    Best regards .Will Hansen

  8. Thank you Will, that is exactly my point and so good of you to join in there!

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


This blog does NOT allow anonymous comments. All comments are moderated to filter out abusive and vulgar language and any posts indulging in abusive and insulting language shall be deleted without any further discussion.