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 ")

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.

 

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

BMW's Remote Valet Parking Assistant
'Mary... claimed her car from the robopark...'

HAVOC Over Venus ala Bespin
'Cloud City is an installation on the planet Bespin...'

Neuroscientist Works Toward Virtual Immortality ala Clarke
'Nothing will be left of Jeserac but a galaxy of electrons frozen in the heart of a crystal.'

A Basic Income TED Talk
'They de-emphasized what lack of work would do to Mr. Everyman'

Smart Window Tints, Powers Itself
'The polawindow, which he tuned to clear transmission.'

What Can Magic Leap Expect From New 'Chief Futurist' Neal Stephenson?
'The goggles throw a light, smoky haze across his eyes...'

Should SETI Talk To Molecular Cloud Barnard 68?
'I myself am building basic chemicals at about 10,000,000,000 times the rate at which building is occurring on the whole ... surface of your planet.'

EXACTO Bullets Change Course In Mid-Air
'This little weapon ejects a rather ingenious missile...'

LikeAGlove Smart Garment Knows Your Size
'The tailor set moving a mechanism...'

Button-Pushing Robots Have Taken Our Jobs, Thankfully
'The ten forked ends of each arm commenced a rattling pressing of the buttons.'

Puls 'Smart Watch' Replaces Your Cell Phone
Even before Dick Tracy, there were Ideas about this.

Small Molecule Walker Takes First Steps
'The bits were in motion.'

US Navy Laser Ready For Use
Fifty years from cartoon to reality.

Fast Lightweight Autonomy Indoor Drones For DARPA
'the Scarab buzzed into the great workroom... and sought the security of a shadowed corner.'

Ninebot One Self-Balancing Wheel
'It had been a long time since the Chief Engineer had ridden one of these silly-looking little vehicles...'

FuturICT Knowledge Accelerator And Psychohistory
'The reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli...'

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.