Plastics. They are found in most everyday objects. Whether it be our phones, the water bottles that we drink from or the plates that we eat off in the Marketplace, it is a substance that we have taken advantage of and have widely used throughout the past 100 years.
Though it has provided us with many benefits, it does not come without its drawbacks. A majority of synthetic plastics take, on average, 450 years to fully biodegrade.
Our landfills and the amount of pollution that we produce continue to grow, even though we make efforts to recycle.
Though we are doing our best to take care of Mother Nature, it seems that she has plans of her own.
In March, a paper was published detailing the research of Aspergillus tubingensis, a species of fungus in landfills located in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Originally discovered by Raoul Mosseray in 1934, renewed interest in this fungus is due to the recent research published by Sehroon Khan.
With his fellow researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Khan decided to investigate the extent of what the fungus could do to plastics, specifically the most common plastic, polyurethane (PU).
After gathering and sterilizing the collected samples, the researchers chose to test A. tubingensis in different environments. They cultivated three identical strands of the fungus and placed the first sample in a petri dish made from MSM (a naturally occurring chemical compound).
They emerged the second in a liquid solution. Finally, they reintroduced the final strand to soil. Each one of these measured the natural degradation effect that the fungus has in these environments.
After the researchers introduced the fungus to the dish and placed a sterilized PU film over the top, they incubated it for four days.
Once the fungus grew onto the PU film, they extracted it and observed multiple large holes in the surface. The holes’ perimeters had blackened along the edges.
Upon further inspection of the film, they found signs of erosion. Given enough time, the fungus could have possibly consumed the entire PU sample. A similar situation arose when the researchers placed the fungus in the solution of MSM and 2% glucose along with a similarly sterilized film of PU.
Within days, the fungus had folded the PU strip and cracks had begun to show in its surface. After one month, the PU had a thick mass of fungus covering the majority of its surface area.
After four months, the PU was at least 90 percent degraded.
Finally, the researchers tested the fungus’s performance in soil. They buried the samples for four months and then retrieved them for analysis. The results were small holes, erosion and general decay of the PU.
This unlikely fungus may be the first step to a better, cleaner earth. The future practical applications of this research remain to be seen, but until then let us do our best to keep our environment clean.
The fungus already has plenty to eat.