Students from Yale University recently discovered a fungus from the Amazon rainforest that can break down the common plastic, polyurethane. A recently published article from Applied and Environmental Microbiology describes how the fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, was isolated from the Yasuni National Forest in Ecuador and has the potential for use in waste management. Plastic disposal is becoming an increasingly relevant issue as global demand for plastic has skyrocketed from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 245 million tons in 2006. Plastic degrades slowly and as a result scientists have been investigating techniques to accelerate this process. The researchers plan to study the mechanisms of biodegradation by which P. microspora metabolizes the plastic as well as determine the potential effectiveness of the fungus for bioremediation. Prior to the discovery of P. microspora, few organisms had been shown to degrade plastics but never with the voracity or speed of the recently identified fungus. The waste processing application of P. microspora has the exciting potential of reducing the growing amount of plastic in our landfills. Furthermore, the discovery gives credence to the argument that defending the biodiversity of both the rainforests and our planet is a worthwhile endeavor.
I find this extremely interesting, however I strongly believe that the fungus must be thoroughly tested in controlled environments before being introduced to any of our landfills. While we need to get rid of our garbage, we certainly don’t want another lionfish invasion!