The Amazon is home to more species than almost anywhere else on earth. One of them, carried home recently by a group from Yale University, appears to be quite happy eating plastic in airless landfills.The group of students, part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador. The mission was to allow "students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way." The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane.
The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and–even more surprising–do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.
Student Pria Anand recorded the microbe’s remarkable behavior and Jonathan Russell isolated the enzymes that allow the organism to degrade plastic as its food source. The Yale team published their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology late last year concluding the microbe is “a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation.” In the future, our trash compactors may simply be giant fields of voracious fungi.
The newly-discovered fungus is an endophytic microorganism, which means it lives on or inside the tissues of host plants without causing them harm. Several other microorganisms were found that would degrade both solid and liquid polyurethane, but only P. microspora isolates could survive entirely on the plastic under aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
The paper describing the discovery was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The authors suggest endophytic fungi such as P. microspora could be used to deal naturally with waste products such as polyurethane—a process known as bioremediation. Read more
Who knows what the students in the rainforest will turn up next?
Original Source: Fungi Discovered In The Amazon Will Eat Your Plastic | Co.Exist | ideas + impact