Yale students discover plastic-eating fungus

Pestalotiopsis microspora can survive on plastic alone in an anaerobic environment

Polyurethane—widely known as plastic—is one of most versatile and resilient materials on the planet. You can find it in the pen you write with, the toys your kids play with and the garden hose you water the plants with. But for years, discarded plastics have been filling landfills, refusing to degenerate or waste away like most other garbage. It’s been a problem without a realistic solution—until now.

A bunch of biology students from Yale traveled into the Ecuadorian jungle with their professor Scott Strobel to examine plants in a rainforest expedition. They came back with an undiscovered fungus that has the amazing ability to not only eat plastic, but survive on nothing other than plastic. That makes the fungus—Pestalotiopsis microspora—the first known to survive on plastic alone in an anaerobic environment, meaning without oxygen.

The group recently published their research on the fungus and the process of decomposing plastics. The great promise is that these fungi might one day be able to grow at the bottom of garbage dumps, where they can munch down on plastic all day and all night.


American Society for Microbiology

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.