Seriously, though this is kind of a big deal. Know that big problem we have? You know, the one involving a crapload of used plastic hanging around in landfills with nowhere to biodegrade for a couple million years? Well, Jonathan Russell might’ve solved that problem. See, Russell and his fellow Yale students went to Ecuador, where they found a new kind of fungus they’re calling Pestalotiopsis microspora. Big deal, you’re thinking. Anyone can find fungus anywhere! Well, something his fellow students found out after the fact is that this fungus can live on a diet of polyurethane alone — and even crazier, it doesn’t even need air to do so! In other words, we could potentially put it at the bottom of a landfill and cover it with plastic, and it would do the rest of the work. This might be game-changing if it works as advertised. (photo via Flickr user dbutt; EDIT: Updated with link to research abstract) source
So amazing! The only thing I worry about when these kinds of discoveries are made is that people will abuse it. Which is of course what usually happens. They see this and think, hey I’m all right with using plastic. But I’m just being negative, and progress in getting rid of all the waste we already have is a HUGE positive.
This is HUGE news. I’m waiting to hear more about it, but this could be a potential game-changer for much of our plastic-pollution problem. However, it’s not the end of the story. It may not work for many types of plastic (though perhaps we could engineer strands which would), it still needs to be assessed for its safety, we don’t want to encourage increased plastic use (as Sam noted), much of the plastic may still be sent into the oceans and other places where the fungi can’t access it but where it poisons the wildlife (and eventually gets into us, don’t forget!). In short, there’s still much to look into, but this could still prove an amazing boon in our society’s struggle to become sustainable and hopefully repair some of the excessive damage we have done to our environment, flora, and fauna. Very exciting stuff! (Gizmodo link here.)
Also, you know how environmentalists are always saying that there are valuable species in the rainforest and that losing biodiversity is a loss to the whole world? Well, this is a good example of just that - some random species with an amazing ability we might have otherwise bulldozed over. Keep it in mind next time you hear someone talking about the rainforest or biodiversity.