Dish soap and sponges could be endangered species if a group of Swiss scientists have their way. Scientists have figured out a way to develop a self-cleaning plastic that, with the help of some special fungus, can eat spilled food. The scientists have described the plastic as “the first eating material,” and it’s one that could have seemingly limitless consumer applications. Keep reading to see how the magic plastic works.

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Researchers at ETH Zurich, led by Lukas C. Gerber, took thin, slightly porous sheets of plastic and injected them with penicilium roqueforti, which is the fungus found in blue cheese. The idea was to try to mimic the way cheese rinds protect the cheese inside from unwanted bacteria. To test the self-cleaning plastic, the researchers dropped a little bit of a sugar solution on it, and let it go to work.

“Gas exchange for breathing and transport of nutrient through a nano-porous top layer allowed selective intake of food whilst limiting the microorganism to dwell exclusively in between a confined, well-enclosed area of the material,” the authors explain in their recently-published paper.

Two weeks later, the sugar solution had been completely consumed by the fungus, leaving the plastic sparkling clean. Then, after it had eaten all of the sugar, with nothing to feed on, the fungus went dormant again. Two weeks is a long time to wait for something to clean itself (although, if you have roommates, it might not seem so long), but from food packaging to kitchen countertops (or, as Scientific American suggests, shirts), it seems like this fungus-filled plastic could have dozens of applications.

+ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Via PhysOrg and Popular Science

Lead photo by Flickr user avlxyz