Amazonian Fungus Eats Polyurethane

A fungus from the Amazonian rainforest can break down and consume polyurethane, a polymer discovered in 1937 by scientists at IG Farben. Humans use 12M metric tons of polyurethane every year, often for disposable goods, and are running out of places to dump it all. The fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspora, could help dispose of the material; it even works in anaerobic environment, like the bottom of a landfill.

(Pestalotiopsis microspora)

The properties of the fungus were uncovered by student researchers led by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel as part of Yale's annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory.

In The Plastic Eaters, Gerry Davis and Kit Pedlar wrote about a biological time bomb that could destroy necessary infrastructure.

"On the surface, in the freezing December air, the smell of the rotting plastic began to hang permanently in the air. A cloying, wet, rotting smell similar to the smell of long-dead flesh. It filled streets and homes, basements and factories. Traffic lights failed, causing irresolvable jams.... The breakdown of plastic spread into Broadcasting House.... A gas main with polypropylene seals on its pressure regulators erupted into flame.... Plastic cold-water pipes softened, ballooned, and burst, flooding into shops, homes, and restaurants.

"Slowly and inexorably, the rate of dissolution increased; failures occurred in increasing succession until, within forty-eight hours, the centre of London had become a freezing chaos without light, heat, or communication."

Earlier still, Michael Crichton wrote about it in his 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain.

"the organism...Mutated to a noninfectious form. And perhaps it is still mutating. Now it is no longer directly harmful to man, but it eats rubber gaskets."

"The airplane."

Hall nodded. "National guardsmen could be on the ground, and not be harmed. But the pilot had his aircraft destroyed because the plastic was dissolved before his eyes."
(Read more about Crichton's plastic-eating bacteria)

Via Co.Exist; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and a reference on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/2/2012)

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