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The Fungus That Eats Plastic And Could Help Reverse Pollution

'Pestalotiopsis microspora' is the fungus that eats plastic and converts it into organic material by nature.

Nature always seems willing to offer a truce with us no matter how much damage we've done to it. The climate crisis is advancing at a rapid pace, and we are urgently looking for solutions to help us balance the planet. However, many times it seems that the answers can be found in nature itself. This is the case of this unique fungus that eats plastic, a small specimen that could teach us how to reverse waste.

Since the 1950s, humans have produced about 9 billion tons of plastic. Only 9% of this waste is recycled, 12% is incinerated, and the remaining 79% remains accumulated in different places in the natural environment.

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According to the UN, between 8 and 13 million tons of plastics and debris enter the sea annually. It is equivalent to one truckload of garbage entering the ocean every minute. Although various organizations have attempted to clean up the sea, the waste cycle is so large that these efforts are almost imperceptible.

In fact, plastic pollution is so serious that this material is already inside us. It is estimated that a person ingests about 5 grams of plastic every week orally or through breathing.  

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Plastic trash accumulates in so many parts of the world that at the end of the day it comes back to us. Although research on microplastics in the human body is limited, some studies indicate that in addition to accumulating in the gastrointestinal tract, plastic also accumulates in the brain tissues and other parts of the body.

The fungus that eats plastic and gives hope

The fight against plastic waste reveals shocking data. We can now recognize the urgency of implementing new actions to stop this pollution. However, while humans struggle with their consumerist actions, nature itself offers a sign of hope.

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In the search for alternative methods to reduce plastic, researchers came across a peculiar fungus. Pestalotiopsis microspora is one of the plastic-eating fungi. With the ability to consume polyurethane (one of the main compounds in plastics), this tiny member of the fungal kingdom could become the most valuable mushroom on the planet.

How was the cleaning fungus discovered?

A group of students from Yale University discovered the peculiar fungus in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. According to their findings, Pestalotiopsis microspora can grow on polyurethane and use it as a carbon source.

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This means that the fungus does not need environments with or without oxygen to survive. It simply decomposes and digests everything it eats to finally convert it into organic matter.

But how ethical is it to use nature again for our benefit? It sounds almost miraculous that a fungus can consume a material created by humans. However, the planet has proven to have extraordinary beings.

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Although this fungus can be used to clean up plastic pollution on the planet, the reality is that the root of the problem remains unresolved. We know that we can find balance in nature, but how willing are we to work with nature to achieve it?

Text courtesy from Ecoosfera

Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

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