Scientists discover fungus that degrades plastic

June 29, 2017 | Environment
Plastics: every year, 10 million tons of plastics end up in the ocean | Photo: Creative Commons

A group of researchers from the University of Aveiro, in Portugal, has discovered a marine fungus that degrades microplastics.

According to the scientists, this is the first ecological solution ever to combat plastics in the oceans. The study was published in the Science of the Total Environment.

The fungus nicknamed Zalerion Maritimum not only manages to degrade the small plastic particles but also does it quickly and efficiently.

The researchers tested the fungus in a laboratory environment similar to that of a polluted ocean and, in seven days, Zalerion Maritimum reduced 77 percent of microplastics.

"Experiments were performed on a small scale in 100-milliliter reactors using a volume of 50 milliliters of medium enriched with a minimum amount of nutrients and 0.130 grams of microplastics. In between seven and 15 days, 0.100 grams of microplastics were removed," explains Teresa Rocha Santos, the coordinator of the study.

Zalerion Maritimum: the marine fungus that eats plastic | Photo: UA

The scientists from University of Aveiro's Chemistry Department believe that this a first step towards the global biodegradation of plastics in the world's oceans, especially if mass-cultivated.

In the upcoming months, the Portuguese team will continue the study of the fungus enzymes and its mechanisms, so that they can understand how they actually "destroy" the plastic pieces.

"Recycling has failed as a solution to eliminate the plastic waste that continuously accumulates in the environment, especially in rivers and oceans of the planet. Thus, "the urgency of finding new ways to reduce this environmental threat becomes greater."

Every year, 10 million tons of plastics end up in the ocean.

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