“Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time. And while a straw ban is not the way we’re going to solve it — here’s why – people everywhere are looking for ways to reduce plastic use and mitigate the effects of waste, says Upworthy.
From handing out plastic bags with embarrassing labelsto removing the plastic from six-packs to harnessing the power of a plastic-eating mutant (bacteria), more and more of us are working to find solutions to a growing global program.
Add one more strange and awesome plastic-killing discover to the list: A rare mushroom that feasts on plastic the same way you or I would when we go to that $5 buffet at Cici’s. (I have been only once and I’m still thinking about it, even though just the thoughts are bad for my blood pressure.)
Pesky plastic may have a natural combatant, found in the most unlikely of places: the Amazon rain forest. In 2011, 20 undergraduates from Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry traveled to Ecuador with professor Scott Strobel for an annual research trip and discovered a fungus that eats only polyurethane. It’s the first microbe found to survive exclusively on the plastic, and, most notably, it can do so in anaerobic (oxygen-free) environments, meaning it could potentially thrive at the bottom of landfills. Strobel and his students published a paper, “Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic Fungi,” in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2011.
“It’s interesting research. I think this approach of bioremediation could be very useful in treating accumulated plastic waste,” says David Schwartzman, professor emeritus of biology at Howard University. He has long studied the ecological properties of fungi and lichens and published several papers on the subject. “Landfills are sources of serious problems. They’re leaking methane as well as other pollutants that get into the groundwater. Some bioremediation may be necessary to deal with the huge mountainous accumulation of these waste.”
In their paper, the Yale researchers discussed finding the fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, in the Amazon, one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. The students brought a sample back to the United States, with permission from the Ecuadorean government, and isolated the enzymes in the fungus that enable its plastic-chomping properties.
Is this the end of the problem?
Will these mushrooms be the end to our plastic problems? More research is needed to tell. Until then, we can all help keep landfills cleaner by avoiding single-use plastics in our lives.Upworthy