Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem

Plastic-Eating Fungi Found In The Amazon

A group of students and professors from Yale University have found a fungi in the Amazon rainforest that can degrade and utilize the common plastic polyurethane (PUR). As part of the university’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory educational program, designed to engage undergraduate students in discovery-based research, the group searched for plants and cultured the micro-organisms within their tissue.

Several active organisms were identified, including two distinct isolates of Pestalotiopsis microspora with the ability to efficiently degrade and utilize PUR as the sole carbon source when grown anaerobically, a unique observation among reported PUR biodegradation activities.

Polyurethane is a big part of our mounting waste problem and this is a new possible solution for managing it. The fungi can survive on polyurethane alone and is uniquely able to do so in an oxygen-free environment. The Yale University team has published its findings in the article ‘Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic Fungi’ for the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal.


126 thoughts on “Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem

  1. This could be BIG. As long as we don’t destroy the ecosystem to get the fungi, this could solve part of our waste problem. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • There is supposedly a breed of fungus growing on the reactor
      core of Chernobil that is utilizing the radioactivity in a kind of
      photosynthsis. (The same way plants use sunlight.) and it only
      “learned” to do this recently. A common species has darkened
      it’s color and moved in closer to ground zero. It boggels my mind
      how something so toxic to humans is a rich new resource for
      this obscure lifeform. It cannot however reduce the radioactivity.
      Suffice to say it is merly basking in the poisonous glow of the
      ruined reactor. Unlike these helpful bugs, this one just seems
      to be showing off. I heard of things that supposedly eat cyinide
      too. Google “Extremeaphiles” for more of these impossible life

      • I heard it was the actions of the first trees
        that turned the sky blue and made it possible
        for the first breather’s of oxigen to leave the
        sea. Organisms that thrived on the poisonous
        air could not compeat with the arobic life.
        oxigen it turns out – is volitile stuff, things
        that breath it mature quickly but often have
        very short life spans compared to things that
        no not. – many of these early forms still live
        miles beneath the earth’s surface. Certin
        mineral viens, and even crude oil itself, may
        be formed from the actions of these primitive
        creatures – that are basicially just a few Dna
        strands in a protein coat, and yet can live for
        a hundred years.

        often I wonder – what if man could only find a way
        to live without oxygen . . . and the free-radicals it
        produces – how long could a body last then?

  2. Yess! So we can finally start working on getting rid of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (AKA Pacific Trash Vortex)? That would be swell.

  3. Great idea, but like many, offers an excuse to keep using plastic rather than conserving what we have, like eating low fat crisps to lose weight – result is many people eat double. cheers.

    • I like the way you think. Narrow-focus and things seem easier, clear. But think LARGE and things get complex in a hurry. We’re living in a big place!

    • That’s my concern, as well. We’ll forget the importance of reducing and reusing altogether.

      It’s an interesting discovery, to be sure. But I am pretty sure we humans will find a way to screw it up, given our track record.

    • It’s true, when you think it safe u use more – excessive
      packageing still uses up lots of energy. Even if it can be
      safely disposed. Plastic like the oil that makes it is a
      limited resource. I love the stuff, it has revoulutionized
      the world like no metal ever could, I feel sad to have to
      throw it away sometimes.

  4. Fascinating. Thank you. I wonder at it’s ability to be controlled, say in terms of the plastic in medical equipment, should it become widespread.

  5. Pingback: Fungi to the Rescue!!! « Mrs. Szeryk's 9YO Class at QSIB

  6. This could potentially solve some of our pollution products, but it must be kept a little known fact. If it gets put into practise and is publicly known it will become an excuse to use plastic without guilt.

  7. 1) I hate to imagine what would happen if this stuff spores off and wanders beyond its designated area of application.

    2) What say we all just use less crap in the first place? Sustainability will not be achieved by inventing freaky X-files techno-solutions that allow us to keep living like first-world Americans forever.

  8. It is a paradox that the solution to the plastic waste problem is found in the amazon. This is because it is right there, in the amazon forest, where the petroleum that serves as the raw material to make plastic is found. And where the oil companies are destroying the whole ecosystem and ancient cultures to extract the oil. So, we devastate the amazon in order to fabricate plastic; then we get tons of plastic waste all over the place; we go to the amazon to find the solution to all that waste; but the amazon forest is destroy by the oil companies. Isn’t that aburd?

    • Come to think of it, there is a microbe that eats oil –
      so I guess we are not the only ones – there also seems
      to be a mirobe that eats garbage and poops oil. So there
      may be more where that came from. Perhaps these oil
      eating bugs have learned to eat plastic as varent of their
      usual diet? In land so rich in oil, it starts to make since
      something there might eat it – and plastic too.

  9. This just further proves that nature has a cure for everything, but the more people trash the environments, dump plastic and other toxic materials and chemicals, and clear cut rainforests and other biological systems, the less likely it is that we can save what little we have left in our world.

      • I wish so many people would just open their eyes, bugger away from bureaucracies and other log jamming things like that and just do what’s right for both the world and her creatures, including us.

      • I too am bothered by man’s great intelligence
        but lack of any significant ability to use it for the good of any one else. Fortunately nature is often like a market economy – If there a job opening –
        someone will take it. Though having a fungus
        solve major problems for us bares questions
        on who’se really in charge.

  10. Really neat! What with the plastic homosapiens have dumped over the years, these fungi can even hope for global domination. Unless, we find a way to eat them too. Hmm…then it’ll be fully recycled.

  11. Great post and hopefully part of the solution. In the mean time you can find loads of plastic free products on my blog listed as part of my ongoing plastic boycott x

    • I’de love to see that computer you have woven out of himp! 😀
      Just kidding – disposible plastics are the real enimy. It’s sad to
      see such beautiful containers crafted for the trash can, blech –
      and to think of the fuel expended to make more and more, sad.

      • I think plastic is a wonder product that has changed the world – computers being one such use. What I hate is the way we use it for everything fit for purpose or not. I fight plastic abuse and the environmental consequences of that abuse wherever I find it. I know – I need something catchier .

  12. great post and hopefully part of the solution to out plastic pollution problems. In the mean time you can find loads of plastic free products listed in my blog as part of our ongoing plastic boycott. Plastic free and loving it x

  13. Sounds good in theory, however what happens when the fungi encounters different compositions of plastic, and eventually consumes one that produces a toxic substance that causes a pandemic? Hey it’s possible.

    • Mass poisoning probably. I don’t think it could cause a disease.
      Also – It doesen’t seem to like oxygen – so there is that . . . A lot
      of this chemicle eating stuff lives in hyper specific inviroments.

  14. This sounds fabulous, but we should use caution before breeding it and dumping it into our landfills. Kudzu was going to be great as forage for livestock. Then, when it got out of control, the Japanese beetle was going to solve the kudzu problem. Then we had to invent ways to kill the Japanese beetle because it likes just about every other plant in America better than it likes kudzu. Imagine what would happen if our trash-eating bacteria got loose and ate plastic things which are NOT trash.

    • It’s sounds like an anaerob – is it? If so exposier to
      air woulden’t be too good for it. There is something
      on the bottom of the sea that supposedly eats sulpher
      but the germ must be kept in water far above the boiling
      point to stay alive. For all we know it may already be at
      work deep in our land fills. Nature dosen’t see pollution
      – it sees new frontiers to populate with new and exciteing

      On the other hand someone thought to use mongooses on
      a rat problem but made it worse when they ate all the snakes.
      Why did they not see that comming? 😛

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  16. This is fantastic! Seriously! Obviously this does not mean we don’t follow the three Rs but this is an incredible find for the world we live in today — most of the world is not reducing their plastic consumption.
    Excellent find, my friend.

  17. Reblogged this on unicornivore and commented:
    Sounds very promising. Especially since now it’s not just the PLASTIC that is the problem but the ESTROGEN INDUCING/CARCINOGENIC BPA additives within said plastics. Let’s hope and pray this magical fungi can take care of that business too. *fingers crossed**

  18. I just reblogged this and added to the fold that it would be amazing if it not only could get rid of our troublesome plastics problems but also the carcinogens and estrogen-enhancer BPA out of the mix too….considering all of the magical things (in literally every way) I’m optimistic that it will handle these important aspects as well. Here’s to the rainforest!!!! Screw deforestation and the big ‘highway to nowhere’ financed, reportedly by the BUSH’s/NEOCONs to get ppl to live along the inner rainforest and clear out the land themselves, only to discover that the dirt doesn’t have the consistency needed to farm upon. Damn neocons — just a polite way to say nazi, really. I’m digressing 🙂 Good post!!

  19. Pingback: Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem « Roosevelt University Green Campus

  20. There is no such thing as good news I guess. Is self-control really so difficult? I take heart from this, With a positive view of humanity who knows where discoveries like this will lead.

    • Yes. There is a theroy out there that we may
      be less prone to free will then we think. Creatures
      of habit and all that. Their may be something
      special about people but we are still 99.9 percent
      animal – and will behave as such 99.9 percent
      of the time – also, animals tend to survive – so
      I guess that means we are destined to stop
      being stupid sooner or lator. 🙂

  21. This could be great fodder for some zany sci-fi movie-could you imagine if everytime the fungi ate plastic it got bigger! Oh we would be in so much trouble!

  22. I was initially amazed but then skeptical about the fungus. What if the byproduct of the plastic ingestion is a seed that grows to transmit high frequency sound waves that all humans are deaf to and invites flesh eating monsters from a planet we haven’t yet discovered? Good news for the moment, nonetheless =).

  23. I read this article or a similar one a few weeks ago. I thought it was fantastic how we find the greatest discoveries in the most remote places. They have been saying for years that our greatest chance of finding the cures for most diseases is also probably in the rain forest.

  24. This fungi would not go hungry in Australia! however i can only imagine the damage it could inflict on my car.

  25. Can they also find onethat dissolves ex-spouses? I’ll single-handedly fund that expedition! On a serious note, this is amazing. It goes to show that there there is balance in all things natural and man-made.

  26. as I understand it, and I possibly don’t, microbes have been developing that can break down some of the simpler plastics i.e. the ones that are closest to the natural product, for some time now. But this is not some kind of nightmare scenario just a natural process. Like there are microbes that enable natural products to biodegrade. That doesn’t mean all our wooden telegraph poles disappear overnight and our dinner tables will vanish before our very eyes.
    Also as we are developing more and more complex plastics everyday it is unlikely that the microbes will be able to deal with most of our new plastics.
    Plastic is a wonder product because it doesnt rot – using to make one use throw items is so dumb. We are in effect making ever lasting litter. Quite frankly we deserve microbes eating our hoovers

  27. Between these bacteria and the guy who eats airplanes, we can make a serious dent in the amount of waste in this world! 🙂

  28. This is definitely deserving of “Freshly Pressed” front page… What a unique discovery. Here’s to hoping we don’t use this as an excuse to waste a little extra. Thanks for the article link!

  29. I think they have also discovered plastic eating microbes in the ocean, which raises concerns that our plastic will eventually work its way through the food chain back to our dinner plates; ironically I am bemused by that idea of us eventually eating our own rubbish.

  30. This is great news. I always assumed plastic was indestructible, hopefully this method can be used quickly before the plastic takes over the earth.

  31. I think this is great. Just don’t forget about possible negative side-affects or hazards associated with it. What if it mutated and or got out of control? What if there were fungus outbreaks in our homes, eating all our household plastics? Food for thought…

  32. Reblogged this on The Book of Daniel and commented:
    Whoah! The simplest solution would seem to be to harvest this fungus, and unleash it upon the world’s landfills! But what if in doing so, the fungus mutates into an unstoppable monster? If plastic won’t kill it, what will?

  33. Great news!!! If only we weren’t in this predicament to begin with. I’m not a fan of plastic and yet I can’t seem to come home from the grocery store without something packaged in plastic. It’s everywhere!
    We make these great strides to make our lives easier only to find out later than we’re only damaging ourselves and the world we live in. We should have stuck with the basics… as hard as the those were, we’ve only traded those hard times for a different set of challenges. At least our civilization had a chance now we’re the very reason for destruction!

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