Is ‘Plastic Eating Fungus’ The Answer To The World’s Waste Problems?

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Turns out, environmentalists and scientists seeking for ways to be done with plastic need only to look in a garbage dump in Islamabad, Pakistan, where a fungus-feeding on plastic was recently discovered.

In a study authored by nine researchers from Pakistan and China, the fungus aspergillus tubingensis can break down non-biodegradable plastic in weeks by secreting enzymes which pull apart individual molecules.

Dr. Sehroon Khan from the World Agroforestry Centre/Kunming Institute of Biology, lead author of the study said the discovery of the fungus could pave the way for safer and more effective ways to degrade waste plastic.

Before the discovery in Islamabad, the team was focused on discovering ways to degrade plastic “that already existed in nature.”

We decided to take samples from a rubbish dump in Islamabad, Pakistan, to see if anything was feeding on the plastic in the same way that other organisms feed on dead plant or animal matter,” said Khan.

The discovery of Aspergillus tubingensis is the most recent in the field of mycoremediation, a process that uses fungus to degrade polluting substances.

The study says that the fungus was tested in liquid, soil and Sabouraud Dextrose Agar (SDA) plate — that is primarily used for the isolation of dermatophytes, other fungi and yeasts — in order to discover the ideal conditions for it to be most effective.

Khan and her team discovered that while the fungus decomposed plastic in all three mediums, bio-degradation was highest when it was cultured on an SDA plate, followed by liquid and soil respectively.

According to the World Economic Forum, the fungus lives in soil but researchers say that it can also survive on plastic surfaces.

On its own, the plastic can take decades to decompose and is dangerous as it can carry carcinogens as well as other lethal pollutants; which is why burning plastics is not the best solution as it releases these pollutants in the air.

The discovery of Aspergillus tubingensis can prove to be a solution to this threat. The fungus can be used in waste treatment plants to treat plastic particles that have polluted water supplies as well as soil.

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