Fungus That Eats Polyurethane

A group of student bioprospectors from Yale has struck environmental gold in the jungles of Ecuador. The students, through the annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course taught by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, have discovered a fungus with a powerful appetite for polyurethane. That common plastic often winds up buried in landfills, where it can remain, largely unaltered, for generations.

“Many microbes can do cool tricks, like degrading pollutants.”

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Thanks for the post annet. This is good information. That fungus could be used in landfills to degrade plastics.

Before everyone gets all excited, read "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters"

I read this book over 30 years ago!  It's speculative Science Fiction about just such a microbe that gets a little bit out of hand, and eats ALL the plastic it can find.  Chaos ensues, as one can imagine.

Strikes me as a good news / bad news thing, because:

  • The good news is that plastics which hang around forever can be reduced to something manageable, and perhaps with some genetic engineering on the fungus, raw material which can put pumped back into production either of plastics or something else
  • The bad news is that, should this fungus get out in the field, there's an awful lot of polyurethane currently in use out there to feed on!

Control in this case is a VERY important parameter!

You mentioned genetic engineering. Wouldn't it be possible to engineer a variety of this fungus that cannot reproduce without human help? I confess I don't know much beyond the absolute basics of fungal reproduction.

WOW! Great discovery.


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