A Marine Fungus Has Been Discovered That Is Capable of Eating Plastic

A Marine Fungus Has Been Discovered That Is Capable of Eating Plastic

Scientists have made a discover that could change how we recycle and manage plastic waste in the future.

Every year, humans produce over 400 billion kilograms of plastic, much of which ends up in the sea, harming various species. A potential solution to combat this has been discovered at the ocean's depths.

In a recent study published in the Science of The Total Environment journal, researchers found that a marine fungus, found in the deepest parts of the ocean, can degrade polyethylene plastic after exposure to UV radiation from sunlight. Polyethylene is widely used in packaging, waterproofing, bottles, insulation, corrosion protection, toys, and more.

According to SciTechDaily, researchers focused on critical plastic pollution areas in the North Pacific Ocean to identify microbes capable of breaking down plastic. They isolated the marine fungus Parengyodontium album from collected plastic waste and cultivated it in the lab on carbon-containing plastics.

"Carbon-13 isotopes remain traceable in the food chain, acting as markers to track carbon movement in degradation products," explains Annika Vaksmaa, scientist and study lead author.

"Measurements showed that the fungus doesn't heavily use carbon from PE during decomposition. Most of the PE processed by P. album is converted into carbon dioxide, which the fungus excretes," notes Vaksmaa.

Though CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the emissions from fungi are comparable to those from human respiration and do not pose a significant environmental concern.

Sunlight is vital for the fungus to use PE as an energy source, limiting its ability to decompose plastics in deeper ocean layers. Researchers speculate other undiscovered fungi may degrade plastic in more remote ocean areas.

"Marine fungi can break down complex carbon materials. Given the diversity of marine fungi, beyond the four identified species, others likely contribute to plastic degradation," concludes Vaksmaa. Finding plastic-degrading organisms remains crucial.

Recently, researchers at the University of San Diego developed a self-biodegrading plastic. This innovation, coupled with plastic-degrading fungi, offers promising avenues in combatting current pollution challenges.