Polyurethane, modern wonder material or scourge of our society, no matter how we feel about it Pestalotiopsis microspora, a fungus discovered in Ecuador, loves it. With the world slowly becoming wrapped in plastic this could be one handy little fungus.
Discovered in the jungles of Ecuador this mighty micro mushroom will even eat plastic in harsh anaerobic – no oxygen – environments. In the dark damp jungle underground environment of the Amazon where it was first discovered, where there is little or no oxygen, the fungus thrives.
Yale man Scott Strobel a molecular biochemist and his team of students discovered the fungus while on the annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory program. A chance for students to take the lab into the rainforest, which they then take back to the laboratory of course. With the complex life-forms living in a rain-forest comes complex chemicals, these chemicals once understood could do amazing things for humanity.
The scientists were able to isolate the protein used by the fungus, a serine hydrolase. The scientist believe the protein can be copied and integrated into a new disposal system for plastics. When used in commercial sized bio-reactors the protein could break plastic back down into its elemental states, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon etc. As opposed to our current techniques which include letting it collect into a giant floating island in the middle of the pacific or producing noxious gases when incinerating it, recycling is the obvious exception.
Plastic is undoubtedly one of the most useful materials invented in the last 100 years. Being cheap, easy to work with and almost indestructible hasn’t helped plastics poor reputation. In fact this almost indiestructable nature of plastic may be it’s biggest problem, it just never goes away. Pestalotiopsis microspora could be an important part of the solution for the plastic problem. Just don’t let it near your Tupperware collection.