A new study from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London says that fungi are capable of expediting the breakdown of plastic waste. The aspergillus tubingensis fungus was featured in the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report, which also documented that fungi are optimal in producing sustainable building materials and capable of removing pollutants from soil and wastewater. Whereas plastic generally takes years to degrade, the mushroom, first discovered growing in a Pakistani dump in 2017, could make it possible to break down the pollutants in weeks.
The 2018 report is the first release of its kind, marking its debut with the monumental discovery that mushrooms could provide a solution to the growing plastic waste crisis. The global concern has spurred research and innovation in the design and tech industries, but U.K. botanists say that nature might have already provided an answer by arming itself with a biological defense against the plastic plague with which it is overwhelmed.
Because its properties catalyze the deterioration of plastic molecules, the report announced that aspergillus tubingensis “has potential to be developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste.”
According to the scientists, the mushroom has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastics, where it breaks down the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules. Armed with a unique enzyme that is secreted by the sprout, aspergillus tubingensis is one of the most interesting fungi featured in the team’s research paper.
The report also confirmed that white rot varieties of fungus like pleurotus ostratus and trametes versicolor have a beneficial effect on soil and wastewater, removing pesticides, dyes and explosive remnants. The trichoderma species has been identified as a stimulant for producing biofuels through its conversion of agricultural waste into ethanol sugars. Fungal mycelium is also notable, especially for designers and architects interested in finding sustainable replacements for polystyrene foam, leather and several building materials.
Tom Prescott, senior researcher at Kew Gardens, told Dezeen, “The State of the World’s Fungi report has been a fascinating look into the fungal kingdom, revealing how little we know and the huge potential for fungi in areas as diverse as biofuels, pharmaceuticals and novel materials.”
The State of the World’s Fungi report documents more than 2,000 new species found in 2017, identifying useful characteristics for both natural and industrial purposes as well as citing the obstacles they encounter as a result of climate change. More than 100 scientists from 18 countries collaborated on the study and cataloged the new mushrooms for the Kew Gardens “fungarium,” which houses over 1.25 million dried specimens of fungi from all over the planet.
Image via Pree Bissessur