Fungus That Eats Polyurethane Found In Ecuadorian Rainforest

Andromeda Strain/Screen capture

In the original 1971 movie Andromeda Strain, the villain is a bug from space that is constantly mutating, finally turning into a plastic-eating bug that chews through all the gaskets in a sealed facility, causing significant mayhem. Now Michael Coren at Fast Company's Co.Exist reports on a find that would have given the late author Michael Crichton a sequel; a fungus that eats polyurethane, found in the middle of the Ecuadorian rainforest. He could pitch it as Andromeda Strain meets Medicine Man. They describe it Yale Alumni Magazine :

At Yale, Pria Anand isolated Pestalotiopsis microspora samples and showed that they could do something no one had seen: live and prosper on a steady diet of polyurethane alone. Most intriguing, the fungus is believed to do this even under the oxygen-free conditions that would prevail at the bottom of a landfill. Russell has isolated an enzyme the fungi use to accomplish the degradation, and it’s possible that this molecule alone could be useful in eliminating polyurethane.

As long as it can be kept under control, we don't want to start having it eat all that polyurethane foam in super-insulated houses, or all of our gaskets. And it doesn't end with polyurethane; According to Yale biochemistry Professor Scott Strobel in Plastic News, they are after other game as well.

"We are also developing approaches to identify organisms able to degrade more complicated polymers. One of the students this year is targeting polystyrene,” Strobel said. “Because of the nature of the polymer, that is a much more difficult challenge than polyurethane."

Mushrooms in Ecuadorian Rainforest, not Pestalotiopsis microspora. Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is an example of Mycoremediation, a term used by Paul Stamets to describe " the process of using fungi to degrade or sequester contaminants in the environment." My editor also noted the microbial infallibility hypothesis (there's a microbe to digest pretty much anything, if you can find it). Perhaps there should be a Fungus Infallibility Thesis as well.

More at Co.Exist

Tags: Biodiversity | Ecuador

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