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 -
Mind Control Of Gene Expression In Mice
'We used your thought images almost entirely...'- Robert Heinlein, 1941.
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.
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.
Foodini 3D Printer
''...Food slot gave him flat reddish-brown bricks.'
Parrot Bebop Drone Pairs With Your Smartphone
'Over a radius of several miles Sonya's raytron apparatus could direct its flight [using] an image of all that the lens eye saw.'
SCRIBE Enables Distributed Genomically Encoded Memory
Genomic DNA for analog, rewritable, and flexible memory.
Artisanal 3D Printing By Martha Stewart
'Nanofax AG offers a technology that digitally reproduces objects, physically, at a distance.'
Knightscope Robot Security Guards Ready
'A robot guard appeared, streaking toward them across the field.'
Bullet-Proof Kevlar Woven Electronics
'Check the watch imprinted on his sleeve...'
USAF 'BATMAN' Wrist Display
'The tiny screen in the bracelet's center...'
CoBots - Collaborative Robots Ask Humans For Help
'Whenever a robot finds something it can't identify... You give it a good look.'
Shape-Shifting Carbon Fiber
'Its lines wavered, flowed, and then painfully reformed.'
'Digital Drugs' (Like Herbert's Semuta?) Dismays Saudis
'The effect (described as timeless, sustained ecstasy) is elicited by certain atonal vibrations...'
Mind Control Of Gene Expression In Mice
'We used your thought images almost entirely...'
Nixie Wrist-Ready Flying Selfie-Cam Drone
'He set his camera to follow him...'
DARPA Wants Airborne Launch Facility For Drones
This was tried with recon craft in WWII.
Lit Motors Self-Balancing Motorcycle
'He had never ridden any motorized device that lacked onboard steering and balance systems...'
Neuromorphic Brain-Chip Takes Flight
'Cultured brains on a slab.'
What Are Robots Thinking?
'Your clothes... give them to me.'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories