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Can a mushroom reduce the environmental impact of plastics?
More and more plastic waste pollutes our environment. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time before plastics can be broken down. Researchers have now discovered a special fungus that can break down plastic in just a few weeks instead of years.
Scientists have discovered a fungus in a garbage dump in Pakistan, which in the future could help to break down plastics within a period of just a few weeks. The experts reported the results of their study in the journal "State of the World’s Fungi".
Pilz can degrade polyester-polyurethane in just eight weeks
The researchers found in their investigation that the fungus called Aspergillus tubingensis can degrade a type of plastic known as polyester polyurethane (PU) in just eight weeks. Plastics typically take decades or even hundreds of years to biodegrade, making them extremely harmful to the environment.
Plastic waste must be disposed of
Earlier this week, a giant "garbage collector" was released in the Pacific Ocean to try to remove some of the plastic garbage there. Even if the plastic waste is collected, there is still no way to get rid of the garbage without using conventional dumps or burning it. The mushroom with the extraordinary property could now remedy the situation. Mushrooms are an integral part of our ecosystem and can form or influence a natural habitat.
Mushrooms have various useful uses
This organism is just one of several new discoveries highlighted in a report on the importance of fungi. While normal mushrooms are often used as food, mushrooms have also proven to be extremely useful in the fields of medicine, biofuel production, and more recently waste disposal, the researchers explain.
There are an estimated 3.8 million different types of mushrooms
In the report, the authors describe the global state of mushrooms, which shows how important they are to all organic life on Earth. There are believed to be up to 3.8 million different types of mushrooms, but science has so far identified only 144,000 of them.
Mushrooms play a big role for plants and humans
In fact, 90 percent of all the plants we know rely in some way on mushrooms to stay alive and thrive. For example, orchids are almost entirely dependent on fungi to germinate, the experts describe. Penicillin and a number of other life-saving drugs have all been derived from fungi. Washing powder uses fungi to remove stains.
Enzyme can consume plastics
Earlier this year, a team of scientists discovered a new enzyme that could also consume some of the most environmentally harmful plastics, University of Portsmouth experts said in a press release. The enzyme has only emerged since the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The scientists have actually been able to further improve its plastic-consuming capabilities and hope that this enzyme can be manufactured on an industrial scale. (as)