A Newly-Discovered Fungus Could Eat Plastics In Weeks Instead Of Years

2,000 new species of fungi are discovered every year.

A fungus discovered on a rubbish heap in Pakistan could break down plastics in a matter of weeks instead of years.

Aspergillus tubingensis was found to break down a type of plastic known as polyester polyurethane (PU) in just eight weeks.

Plastics normally take decades or even hundreds of years to biodegrade making them extremely harmful to the surrounding environment.

Earlier this week a giant structure was sent into the Pacific Ocean to try and clean up some of the plastic waste that has been dumped into the sea. Even if it’s collected however there’s still no way of getting rid of it without using conventional rubbish dumps.

Fungi are an intrinsic part of our ecosystem and can make or break a natural habitat.
Kew Gardens
Fungi are an intrinsic part of our ecosystem and can make or break a natural habitat.

This organism is just one of several recent discoveries highlighted in a new report by Kew Gardens on the importance of fungi.

While the humble mushroom might seem like nothing more than a breakfast staple, fungi have proven themselves to be extraordinarily useful in the fields of medicine, bio-fuel production and more recently waste disposal.

In its report, ‘State of the World’s Fungi’, Kew Gardens outlines the global state of fungi revealing how essential they are to all organic life on Earth.

It’s believed that there are as many as 3.8 million different fungal species, yet science has only identified 144,000 of them.

Kew Gardens

In fact 90% of all the plants we know of rely in some way on fungi to stay alive and flourish. Orchids for example are almost entirely dependant on fungi to germinate.

Penicillin as well as a range of other life-saving drugs were all derived from fungal interactions. Washing powder uses fungi to break down stains and bring dull-looking clothes back to life.

The enzyme has only come into existence since we started producing the plastic Polythylene terephthalate (PET). Scientists were then actually able to improve its plastic-eating abilities and are hopeful that it could be produced on an industrial scale.