Mycelium. Image: Kichigin Shutterstock
A new study from London’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew claims that mushrooms are capable of accelerating the breakdown of plastic waste.
The fungus aspergillus tubingensis was featured in the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report, which also documented that fungi are recommended for producing sustainable building materials capable of removing pollutants from soil and wastewater. While plastic generally takes years to degrade, the fungus, which was first discovered growing in a Pakistani landfill in 2017, could make it possible to break down plastics in weeks.
The 2018 report is the first release of its kind, marking its debut with the monumental discovery that fungi could provide a solution to the growing plastic waste crisis. Global concern has spurred research and innovation in industry and technology, but UK botanists say nature may already have come up with the solution by arming itself with a biological defense against the plastic blight with which it is overwhelmed.
As its properties help accelerate the deterioration of plastic molecules, the report announces that aspergillus tubingensis ” has the potential to become one of the desperately needed tools to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste .”
According to scientists, the fungus has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastics, where it breaks chemical bonds between plastic molecules. Armed with a unique enzyme, Aspergillus tubingensis is one of the most interesting fungi featured in the team’s research work.
Aspergillus. Image: Rattiya Thongdumhyun Shutterstock
The report also confirmed that the varieties of fungi Pleurotus ostreatus and Trametes versicolor have a beneficial effect on the soil and wastewater, since they eliminate, for example, toxic pesticides. The trichoderma species has been identified as an accelerator for the production of biofuels through converting agricultural residues into ethanol.
Fungal mycelium also stands out, especially for designers and architects interested in finding sustainable substitutes for Styrofoam, leather, and various building materials.
Kew Gardens Principal Investigator Tom Prescott said: “ The State of the World’s Fungi Report has revealed how little we know and the enormous potential of fungi in areas as diverse as biofuels, pharmaceuticals and new materials “.
The report ” The State of the World’s Fungi ” documents more than 2,000 new species found in 2017, identifying useful characteristics for both natural and industrial purposes and citing obstacles they encounter as a result of climate change.
More than 100 scientists from 18 countries collaborated on the study and cataloged the new fungi for Kew Gardens’ fungarium, which is home to more than 1.25 million dried specimens of fungi from around the globe.
More information: State of the World’s Fungi 2018