A plastic-eating fungus discovered on a rubbish dump in Pakistan could be adapted to destroy waste on land and oceans, international media reported.
The possibility of breaking down plastic waste within weeks rather than hundreds of years will be highlighted when the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew publishes its first report on the fungus. Experts from around the world will gather at the internationally-renowned Kew Gardens in West London this week to discuss the future of research into the conservation and use of fungi.
The scientists working on a rubbish dump in Islamabad found fungus whose enzyme broke down plastics such as polyester polyurethane.
It can take decades or sometimes hundreds of years for some plastics to properly degrade.
But a study on a waste site in Islamabad, Pakistan, isolated a fungus in the soil that quickly broke down chemical bonds.
It took just two months for the fungi – Aspergillus tubingensis – to biodegrade a type of plastic called polyester polyurethane (PU) into smaller pieces.
The Pakistan study suggests fungi could be “developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste”, says the Kew report.
Fungi digests its food by secreting enzymes and absorbing the dissolved organic matter back into cells.
The first-ever state of the world fungi report highlights the important role they can play in helping clean up the environment.
Fungi can also feed on pollutants such as oil spills, toxic chemicals like sarin nerve gas and TNT, and even radioactive waste.
Earlier this year, a team of scientists discovered a new enzyme that could also eat some of our worst polluting plastics.
The enzyme has only come into existence since we started producing the plastic Polythylene terephthalate (PET). Scientists were then actually able to improve its plastic-eating abilities and are hopeful that it could be produced on an industrial scale.