AMAZONIAN PLASTIC-EATING MUSHROOMS : MORE THAN JUST MAGIC

Pestalotiopsis microspora1

Pestalotiopsis microspora is a species of endophytic fungus capable of breaking down and digesting polyurethane.[1] Originally identified in fallen foliage of common ivy (Hederae helicis) in Buenos Aires,[2] it also causes leaf spot in Hidcote (Hypericum patulum) shrubs in Japan.[3]

Its polyurethane degradation activity was discovered in the Yasuni National Forest within the Ecuadorian Amazonian rainforest by a group of student researchers led by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel as part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory. It’s the first fungus species to be able to survive exclusively on polyurethane and, more importantly, able to do so in anaerobic conditions. This makes the fungus a potential candidate for bioremediation projects involving large quantities of plastic.

David Schwartzman (professor emeritus of biology at Howard University) says the Yale results are the promising first steps of a much longer scientific examination. “This research is of value, but we should be quite cautious about the application,” he says. “I would be very leery of releasing some organism into [a new] environment. That’s fraught with a lot of potential dangers.”

Schwartzman cites the plastic trash and microplastic particles clogging the oceans. “I’m just imagining a scenario where we say, ‘Let’s get rid of the marine plastics by spraying these fungi’ [into the ocean]. To me, that’s not a viable solution.” He offers an alternate plan: “Collecting the debris and then applying bioremediation to break them down would seem to be a valuable approach.”

Beyond that are potential horror-movie implications within the microbe’s structure, says Joel Cohen (head of the Laboratory of Populations at Columbia University and Rockefeller University). He points to one of the fungus’s properties, as outlined in the Yale paper: its potential ability to adopt other species’ genes and infect other species with its own genes. As the Yale study notes briefly, “Pestalotiopsis microspora…have a propensity for horizontal gene transfer.”

Cohen cites the Uruguayan-bred virus myxomatosis, which was introduced to Australia in the 1950s in an attempt to curb the enormous rabbit population and quickly went wild across the continent. “What is the possibility of horizontal gene transfer for the gene that produces this digesting chemical to be transferred to other organisms that weren’t intended to have that gene?” asks Cohen. “Is there a risk that the process of degradation could spread out of control?” In other words, the trash-eating enzyme could possibly mutate with other organisms in the landfill and start breaking down materials besides polyurethane—great for horror-movie writers, less so for people living nearby

Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fungi Mutarium: A Mini Farm That Produces Food From Plastic-Eating Mushrooms

According to one recent study, there’s at least 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. That’s more than 250 tons. So what to do with mountains of plastic waste with nowhere to go? Katharina Unger thinks we should eat it.

The Austrian designer partnered with Julia Kaisinger and Utrecht University to develop a system that cultivates edible plastic-digesting fungi. That’s right, you can eat mushrooms that eat plastic.

The tabletop set-up is a mini-factory for cultivating the mycelium (roots) of two fungi strains—Schizophyllum commune and Pleurotus ostreatus, both commonly consumed mushrooms that just so happen to have a voracious appetite for plastic. To convert the plastic into edible product, it’s first placed in an activation chamber where UV light sterilizes the material and begins the degradation process. The plastic is then placed in the growth sphere where it sits in an egg-shaped pod made from agar (a gelatinous material used to culture samples). These pods are called FUs. The diluted mycelium is added to the FUs and slowly begins to consume the plastic, growing into a fluffy, mushroom-like substance. At this point it takes a couple of months for the mycelium culture to consume biodegradable plastic, but researchers are working on accelerating the process for both biodegradable and non-biodegradable varieties by optimizing growth conditions.

It’s a bizarre process, but the end product looks surprisingly like something you might want to consume. You could almost think of the puffy mushroom material as a bread bowl for the the agar (the jelly substance can take on whatever flavor you choose).

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