Cleaning up plastic – the natural way to do it

By | June 1, 2012
Yale researchers have now identified the chemical compound that lets mushrooms degrade plastic. It appears, too, that this type of natural fauna was discovered in 1884 in a species of Argentinian ivy [1], but only now do we know what nature's secret is to breaking down plastics.

The next obvious step is finding a way to mass-produce this enzyme – for example, by bioengineering and seeding those 'magic mushrooms' – in order to help clean up our landfills. Definitely a good step forward!

Now for the disgusting part: this strain of plastic-eating mushroom has already been patentented two years ago [2]. Anyone else think we should ban patents on naturally occurring lifeforms?

Further information:
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pestalotiopsis_microspora
[2] http://www.surechem.org/index.php?Action=document&docId=3598085&db=USPTO

/via +Carmelyne Thompson 

Recently-Discovered ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Eat Plastic – DesignTAXI.com
Recently-Discovered ‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Eat Plastic – DesignTAXI.com

17 thoughts on “Cleaning up plastic – the natural way to do it

  1. Jason Putnik

    Companies who patent naturally occurring lifeforms, like #DOW  and #monsanto , are greedy, blood-sucking killers.  I refuse to purchase anything they sell like Round-up and Round-Up Resistant seed. They're destroying the farming and food industry, they're feeding Americans food with little to no nutritional value that were sprayed with dangerous chemicals, and they have full control over most food prices.

    There's a cold place in hell for the soulless executives at these companies.  

    Reply
  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Rekha Rao I'm not sure – probably not. It might be interesting to check if there have been any studies done on the ivy, as the reference I found was a single short description from an ancient text (in Latin, if that dates it for you!).

    Reply
  3. Rekha Rao

    I did think in the same lines as what +Dave Howell said above. I know there are many incidents where the introduced species created havoc on the new habitat.
    But when I read that article, it said that mushrooms eat plastic "alone". That is why I thought, first introduce it in a *controlled environment* like the landfills and waste-management-facility.
    We definitely need enzyme processing though.
    +Sophie Wrobel , does that ivy eat plastic alone ? Otherwise, it would be a problem later.

    +Patrick Steed , whoever patented it already (2 years ago ?) had the exact thought as you mentioned. Patenting has become a business rather than protecting intellectual property.

    Reply
  4. Patrick J. Steed

    +David Howell has a point though. When you introduce an exotic species like Maleluca trees (from Australia) into South Florida or Asian Grass Carp then you can have a serious problem. Invasive species Kudzu, air potatoes, etc are just some examples of things getting out of control and reeking havoc on an ecosystem.

    Reply
  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Dave Howell I agree that we need to slow plastic production as the root cause of the issue – but that doesn't solve the problem of eliminating the existing plastics. I suspect this is also why the enzyme would be much more valuable than mass-planting landfills with foreign fauna.

    Reply
  6. Patrick J. Steed

    +Rekha Rao I think they'd rather not plant the two natural species in landfills to gobble plastic because some company or group of people is too busy trying to make it more effective, patent it, charge a ton of money and sue if anybody somehow gets the mushrooms (in this case). Hmmm….Monsanto and their soybeans come to mind.

    Reply
  7. Dave Howell

    Be careful… Be VERY careful… Florida is over run with unnatural species of plants and animals introduced over the years to cure "problems" with the environment…  Trees to dry up swamps; Fish to eat   unwanted aquatic growth; animals and birds to deal with unwanted animals and insects… Most of these newly introduced species caused far more problems than the original "problem". Not mentioned above are the myriads of chemicals introduced for insect control and fertilizers. Better to slow the production of plastics than to introduce some "Magic Mushroom species" that could wreak havoc in other ways.

    Reply
  8. Sophie Wrobel

    +Rekha Rao what is puzzling me is why no one has started planting mushrooms or ivy in landfills already. While the magic mushrooms are only two specific isotopes of that particular species, the plastic-devouring ivy is apparantly a common ivy in Argentina known since the 1800's. So, even if ivy is less effective than the mushrooms, it hasn't exactly been a secret!

    Reply
  9. Rekha Rao

    I understand the need to extract enzyme from that mushroom and use it, en masse. 
    However, in the mean time, why not just grow those mushrooms, to start with, in landfills or waste-management-facilities ? Why do we wait for the extraction of enzymes ? Article says "…survive on mushroom alone…without the need for air or light" – that means it can grown anywhere, even outside its natural occurrence.

    Patenting this mushroom is utter ridiculous act

    Reply
  10. Jamie Furlong

    In answer to your question: abso-bloody-lutely. It is ludicrous that a private company can patent a naturally-occurring lifeform!

    Reply
  11. Patrick J. Steed

    They've patented human genes before…slippery slope already began. Biopatents on genes should've never been allowed since a company shouldn't be able to own part of our own DNA sequence or any 'natural' genes of other plant/animal species.

    Reply
  12. Sophie Wrobel

    I'm not sure if they're edible – don't have access to the article behind the paywall. But mushrooms can do amazing things, such as transmitting radio signals from one side of the colony to the other, or the gigantic mushroom infesting an entire forest with a single organism…

    Reply
  13. Michael Ringland

    I can assure you, the mushroom was neither goldtop, or blue moonie..these were two I could identify, but marvellous mushrooms would have been a better by-line….bring on the fungus I say!

    Reply

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