Back in 2012, students from the University of Yale discovered a rare mushroom in the Amazonian rainforest that could eat plastic. The mushroom called Pestalotiopsis microspora is capable of surviving on plastic alone and can live without oxygen. Scientist at the Kunming Institute of Botany in the province of Yunnan, China, also discovered a strain of mushroom species know as Aspergillus tubingensis capable of also breaking down plastic. These mushrooms secrete enzymes that break down the plastic’s chemical bonds and use its mycelia—filaments fungi grow that are much like a plant’s roots to help break down the plastic even further.
Other species of mushrooms have been discovered that could potentially do the same. Oyster mushrooms are also capable of eating plastic and can safely be eaten by humans. Other research suggests mushrooms can convert pesticides and herbicides into more safer compounds and remove heavy metals from contaminated water. Some species of fungus can also be used to remove pollutants out of soil and air.
Knowing that fungi is capable of breaking down plastic naturally and support the environment in other ways, is exciting and revolutionary. As researchers and scientist continue to investigate this possibility, it is important to continue to honor the role nature plays as we continue to look at the opportunities fungi can have in solving environmental concerns.