New Fungi research lifts lid on shy organisms that break down plastic

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BY ELLISON VAHI

A new fungi which can help us deal with our plastic habit has been found.

This is according to the first ever State of the World’s Fungi, produced by Kew Gardens and a team of around 100 scientists from 18 countries, reports that fungi successfully degrades Plastics (polyurethane) in a matter of weeks.

The plastic-busting potential was discovered last year by a team of scientists from China and Pakistan, who search for to separate the fungi that were degrading plastics (polyurethane) at waste disposal sites.

The fungi were identified as aspergillus tubingensis and the scientists observed how it broke down bonds between the different polymers in weeks, rather than the decades it can take plastic to naturally break down.

The breakthrough comes as people across the world demands the throwaway consumer culture that has filled the world in a toxic tide of plastic that is killing marine life and polluting seas.

In relation, according to the report authors, argued that fungi deserve more specialist attention, saying further research into these often neglected organisms could provide answers to some of humanity’s greatest challenges. There may be as many as 3.8 million fungal species but only 144,000 of them have been named.

According to Dr Ilia Leitch, senior scientist at Kew Gardens stated that there are hidden, mysterious kingdom that are underpinning the majority of life on earth.

“We just don’t know enough about them. There are fungi inside plant cells and they can influence how resilient a plant is to climate change. There are all these different links and impacts that we just take for granted but we ignore them at our peril,” she says.

Leitch also says that other fungi and microorganisms are also being explored for their potential to break down other types of plastic.

“By understanding how the fungi break down these bonds and what the best conditions are, you can then increase the speed at which they do it.”

Every year, at least some millions of tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans, sometimes breaking down into tiny micro plastics that make their way into our food chain with, as yet, unknown effects. Through its Clean Seas campaign, and the UN Environment to mobilise governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, use and manage single-use plastics.

The Kew Gardens report showcases the kind of ground-breaking thought that will be at the heart of the fourth UN Environment Assembly to be held in March next year.

With the theme for the meeting- innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production.

The motto is to Think Beyond and Live Within: to think beyond major patterns and live within sustainable limits to tackle environmental challenges and assure a prosperous future.

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