Yale Undergrads Discover Plastic-Eating Fungi

Yale undergraduates have discovered fungi growing in the Amazon Rainforest that can degrade polyurethane, a finding that could lead to innovative ways of reducing waste in the world’s landfills.

The research, detailed in the July issue of the journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, is the work of undergraduates who participated in Yale’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Students search for and collect endophytes – organisms found in rainforest plants – and then test them for biological activity. They analyze those that show biological activity to see whether they might have other medical or social uses.

On a 2008 trip to Equador, Pria Anand, Class of 2010, decided to see if the endophytes she collected could be used in bioremediation. A rudimentary test showed that a chemical reaction took place when the endophyte was introduced to plastic. Other students found analyzed endophytes to find those that break down chemical bonds most efficiently.

This year, a student discovered that one family of endophytes showed the most promise for bioremediation. Further analysis isolated the enzyme that most efficiently breaks down polyurethane.

While other agents can degrade polyurethane, the enzyme identified by Yale students holds particular promise because it also degrades plastic in the absence of oxygen – a prerequisite for bioremediation of buried trash.

A new crop of undergraduates are analyzing newly discovered endophytes collected during recent rainforest trips to see if they can also degrade more intractable plastics such as polystyrene.

(Visited 5,531 times, 5 visits today)

Comments on “Yale Undergrads Discover Plastic-Eating Fungi”

  1. Rachel Dawn

    You guys should definitely link up with the Coalition for Resource Recovery via Global Green USA (in NYC). Keep up the great work!

  2. Michael

    This a very interesting discovery, and seems like it could be a useful tool for humans. The other important issue to add in is that this fungi must be harvested sustainably and a portion of what ever proceeds come from it go back down to preserve and support the Amazon Rainforest which is in a very fragile condition. Amazon Preservation is critical,get more information at http://www.amazonpreservation.com

  3. Erik van Lennep

    Sustainable harvest of the fungi is probably a non-issue. A very small amount will be collected and used to create a few colonies in the lab (need to be isolated via repeatedly planting onto media, re-isolating, and eventually coming up with a set of pure strains having no contaminants). However, donating funds back to keep the ecosystem protected is a big issue. As is getting the story out so the ecosystem is valued for itself.

  4. Thomas Keirnan

    I live in Bolivia where the few rainforest “reserves” we have left, are silently being taken over by colonizers, coca leaf growers, and other non-sustainable parties. If I can find this fungus, I will have a good enough case (and backing) to preserve our only hope of keeping our planet clean. Is there anyway your organization can help/guide me? You’d think our universities would be looking into this, but they’re seriously a joke.


Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *