Plastic is becoming a plague on Earth. Not only are landfills bursting with it, but it has also polluted our oceans to the point that a tiny creature that had apparently made microplastics part of its diet was named Eurythenes plasticus. Can we possibly hold back the spread of a material that piles up faster than it could ever decay?
There might be an answer, and that answer is fungus. Researchers from the University of Kelaniya and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka have discovered some species of fungi that can break down polyethylene—the same type of plastic used for bags, bottles, cling wrap, takeout containers, and more. These fungi have one thing in common: They normally break down hardwood, which otherwise does not decay quickly. While hundreds of fungi and other microorganisms are known to break down various plastics, it was previously unknown that these particular hardwood-eating species could degrade polyethylene.
“Microbial biodegradation of plastics is a promising strategy to depolymerize petroleum-based plastics into monomers or mineralize them into carbon dioxide and water,” the researchers said in a study recently published in PLOS ONE. [Continue reading…]