The Plastic Eaters - Amazon Fungus Lives On Plastic
Intrepid Yale students doing research in Ecuador have brought back a mysterious fungus that can digest plastic.
The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane.
The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and--even more surprising--do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.
Student Pria Anand recorded the microbe’s remarkable behavior and Jonathan Russell isolated the enzymes that allow the organism to degrade plastic as its food source. The Yale team published their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology late last year concluding the microbe is "a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation."
(Rain Forest Expedition and Laboratory)
Enrolled students will explore the diverse ecosystems of one of the world’s rain forests where they will collect plant samples. During the summer, the students will engage in full time research where they will culture endophytic microorganisms growing within the plant tissue. Students will design their own assays and experiments to characterize the microorganisms. Organisms will be screened for the production of novel, biologically active natural products. Taxonomic characterization is expected to reveal some new species.
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."
(Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters)
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."
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)
Update: Larry Niven also used the idea of an organism that ate material necessary for a civilization's infrastructure: see this note on superconductor-eating bacteria from Niven's 1980 novel The Ringworld Engineers; thanks to Augustus van Dusen for bringing this to everyone's attention. (BTW, this is a serious spoiler for those who have not read the Ringworld novels.) End update.
Via FastCoexist; thanks to Winchell Chung (aka @nyrath) for the tip and a reference on this story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/23/2012)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 2 )
Related News Stories -
No Cages In Future Zoos Is Zootopia?
'The park... twisted through specimens from every inhabited planet of the known universe.'
Electric Bacteria That Live On Pure Energy
'April 5, 1977; that was the night the waveries came.'- Frederic Brown, 1945.
Roboroach Now Shipping!
'A cable, here, from the controller to the interface plug... wires from that to the brain.'- Thomas Easton, 1990.
Engineered Bacteria Produces Gasoline
'They call 'em culture tanks... [they] produce oil as a waste product.'- Hal Clement, 1950.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Will You Upload Your Mind Anytime Soon?
And if so, how long will the copy last?
Students! NASA Wants To 3D Print Your Tool Design In Space!
'Mass-produced only in the orbiting factories...'
Amazing ARES Augmented Reality Sandbox
'First he showed him where the input and output of his brand-new kingdom were, and how to program wars...'
'3D Light Sculpture' Projected Directly Onto Retina
'...projects directly on the retina of the eye…'
3D Printer Vending Machine Dispenses Dreams
'Nanofax AG offers a technology that digitally reproduces objects, physically, at a distance.'
Why Not Nurse Grandma With A Robot?
'She's made of a combination of springs, levers, acoustic instruments...'
Flock Of Minisats Will Image The Earth
'We... dropped roughly a thousand eyes on Beta Hydri IV.'
Robert Heinlein, Your Self-Driving Car Is Almost Ready!
'Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...'
Should Robots Have Civil Rights?
'I've seen things... you people wouldn't believe...'
The Manned Maneuvering Unit Story
'Little spurts of red-orange flame from the reaction pistol marked his companion's trail...'
Scheherazade, An Open Story Generator
'How can you compete with an IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue?'
Sample The In Vitro Meat Cookbook
'I grabbed two Syntho-Steaks out of the freezer...'
'Diamond Nanothreads' Now, Someday Space Elevators?
'It is a continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal'
Erased Memories In A Flash Of Light
'Someone, probably at a government military-sciences lab, erased his conscious memories...'
'Artificial Spleen' Cleans The Blood
'The workability of wholly mechanical organs... '
Raffia, The Google Streetview Camel
The old and the new, together.
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories