3 February 2012
Source: Plastics & Rubber Weekly
Students on a Yale University rainforest expedition have discovered a fungus with an appetite for polyurethane, offering the potential to solve the intractable problem of PU waste.
The Pestalotiopsis microspora fungus is the first to be found which can survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone. A bonus is that it does this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment similar to ambient conditions at the bottom of landfills.
The students were in the Ecuadorian jungle on Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel. The mission was to allow "students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way."
The group cultured the microorganisms found within the tissue of jungle plants they had collected, and assayed the bioactivity of the organisms.
The microbe’s remarkable behaviour was recorded by student Pria Anand, and Jonathan Russell isolated the enzymes by which the fungus degrades plastic as its food source. The Yale team conclude that the microbe is "a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation." They speculate that in the future, waste compactors might be replaced by giant fields of voracious fungi.