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Scientists discover fungus that eats plastic

Apr 4, 2017 17:00 IST

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have discovered a soil fungus Aspergillus tubingensis that can break down plastic materials using its enzymes.

This discovery could help solve the ever-growing problem of plastic waste that threatens to destroy our environment.

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Key facts

• The plastic-eating fungus was discovered in Islamabad, Pakistan when the scientists in the hopes of finding an organism that could feed off plastic waste took samples of the soil and various pieces of rubbish.

• Scientists have identified that the fungus, which ordinarily lives in the soil, can also grow on the surface of plastic.

• The fungus in its process of growth secretes enzymes that can break the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules, or polymers when it grows on a plastic surface.

• With the use of advanced microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, the research team found that the fungus also uses the physical strength of its mycelia (the network of root-like filaments grown by fungi) to help break apart the polymers.

This is the first such discovery of its kind that could make plastic disposal in a safe manner a possible reality. Prior to this, all attempts to deal with plastic waste including burying, recycling, incineration have proved to be unsustainable, costly and hazardous to human health.

 

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