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Plastic eating fungus

April 4, 2017 | Expert Insights

Could it be a solution to our garbage problem?

Scientists have identified a soil fungus, which uses enzymes to rapidly break down plastic materials. The fungus capable of degrading polyurethane (PU) plastics has been identified by Chinese researchers.

Aspergillus tubingensis fungus was isolated by a research team led by Xu Jianchu, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xinhua news agency reported.

How does the Fungus Eat Plastic?

  • Aspergillus tubingensis is a fungus, which ordinarily lives in the soil. In laboratory trials, the researchers found that it also grows on the surface of plastics.
  • It secretes enzymes onto the surface of the plastic, and these break the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules, or polymers.
  • Using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, the team found that the fungus also uses the physical strength of its mycelia — the network of root—like filaments grown by fungi — to help break apart the polymers. 

What is the Importance of the Discovery?

  • Humans are producing ever greater amounts of plastic — much of which ends up as garbage. Since plastic does not break down in the same way as other organic materials, it can persist in the environment over long periods of time.
  • Attempts to deal with plastic waste through burying, recycling, incineration or other methods are variously unsustainable, costly and can result in toxic by-products, which are hazardous to human health. 


The new discovery is an advance that could help deal with waste problem that threatens our environment. But caution has to be taken when considering releasing fungus in areas of plastic dumping. The adverse affects of the fungus on the environment has to also be studied and brought to light before the discovery can be considered a major breakthrough.