Apparently, the world’s huge problem with plastic could be solved with the help of fungus. A recent study has found that a mushroom found in Pakistan, called Cue Aspergillus tubingensis, has been shown to break down chemical bonds in plastic.
Environmental Pollution via ScienceDirect published an experiment which showed that this unique fungus can feed off of plastic, and lab experiments showed that when it is introduced to polyester polyurethane plastic, the mycelium caused degradation and scarring.
According to the magazine Sierra:
“To Sehroon Khan, a scientist at the Kunming Institute of Botany in the province of Yunnan, China, exploring a new garbage dump is kind of like going to the grocery store.
“You know that if you go to a vegetable market, you can find all types of vegetables easily,” Khan says. “If you go to a garbage or dumping site where there are many plastic wastes, there must be a microorganism that can degrade it.”
In 2017, Khan and a team of other scientists collected a sample of a previously undiscovered strain of fungus on top of a garbage dump in Islamabad, Pakistan. When they took it back to China to study in the laboratory, the species of fungus, a previously undiscovered strain of the species Aspergillus tubingensis, was able to break down polyurethane—common in industrial settings and used in refrigerators, fake leather, and many other applications—in just weeks instead of decades.
The fungus secretes enzymes that break down the plastic’s chemical bonds and uses its mycelia—filaments fungi grow that are much like a plant’s roots—to break apart the plastic further.”
The problem with plastic is that it does not degrade, and there are only few life-forms out there that are able to eat it. On the other hand, plastic has disastrous effects on the ecosystems around the world.
Facts say that most of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic that have been produced since its use became widespread in the 1950s still exists in some form, and only a fifth of it is recycled.
Therefore, Kew Gardens’ State of the World’s Fungi report says:
“Although there have been studies in the past highlighting fungus species that can degrade plastics, these species are rare, and Aspergillus tubingensis has never been found to do so before. The new strain “has the potential to be developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste.”
Without a doubt, this discovery is highly beneficial since it has huge potential. Yet, scientists are still trying to determine the best conditions for the growth of this fungus.
Yet, Ilia Leitch, a senior scientist at Kew and one of the authors of the report, is cautiously optimistic:
“This is an exciting discovery, but it is really quite new—it is going to be a long road to turn it into a solution.”