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."

"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)

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 |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 2 )

Related News Stories - (" Biology ")

DNA May Contain Malware
'You were told to embed the logical pathogen.' - A. Reynolds and S. Baxter, 2016.

GMO Houseplant Cleans Your Air
Removes compounds too small to be captured by a HEPA filter.

Oil from Algae - Can It Be Done?
'We dump everything that's waste into the tanks, pump the oil off the top.' - Hal Clement, 1950.

Amazing 'Hybrid' Solar-Powered Sea Slug Does Photosynthesis
Thank goodness for Star Trek.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

BrainEx Restores Some Activity To Severed Pig Head
'... they placed the brain in a special solution, having all the properties of Nursing the brain cells.'

Yes, But Do Astrobees Have Lasers For Lightsaber Training?
'... Ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.'

'Young Razorbacks Before Their Katanas Grow In'
'Twin robotic arms with gleaming three-foot sword blades unfolded from the forward hydraulic assemblies...'

A New Way To Run Into Things
'He made an adjustment, pointed the tube at the wall beside Etzwane, and projected a cone of light.'

'Metallic Wood' Strong Like Titanium, Floats In Water
'A metal... light as cork and stronger than steel...'

Seabreacher, H.G. Winter's 1939 Torpoon
'Ken lay full-length in the padded body compartment, his feet resting on the controlling bars of the directional planes, hands on the torpoon's engine levers.'

Abundant Robotics Autonomous Apple Harvester Robot
'... little machines, that went from plant to plant... cutting off the ripe fruit.'

Charging An Electric Car In 2019 (Video), 1912 (Photo) And 1894 (Fiction)
'Recharge the batteries... in almost every town and village...'

Japan Uses Explosives On Asteroid
'...a tiny, rocket-powered projectile, drove towards the mysterious bulk. It hit, exploding into a cloud of incandescent vapour.'

Get Your Speeder Flying Motorcycle From Jetpack Aviation
'The flycycles were miracles of compact design.'

FLIR Black Hornet 3 Palm-sized Drone
These drones can provide situational awareness beyond visual line-of-sight capability.

Dockworkers Protest Driverless Trucks
'It resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception -- there was no driver's cabin.'

Flying Car Concept By Kash Sirinanda
'Each one consists of a hub with many tiny spokes... On the end is a squat foot, rubber tread on the bottom...'

Unfurl The Future! Huawei Mate X versus Galaxy Fold
'A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled silently from the top of the unit and immediately grew rigid.'

Amazon Echo And Google Home Should Have Morality Software
'The Dwoskin Morality Rating-Computer could 'spot the slightest tendency to deviation' from the social norm...'

China Building Robot Wives
'Want a life-companion, a pleasant one?'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.