Rubbish & Rainforests – Amazon fungus found to consume discarded plastic

May 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Amazon rainforest is an ecological treasure hard to find anywhere else and this is reason enough to protect it. Still there are many other substantial reasons to protect it, starting with the Amazon rainforest acting like “the lungs of the Earth” which helps to moderate the temperature of the atmosphere and mitigate climate change by absorbing millions of tonnes of CO2. The Amazon rainforest is also home to tribal people who rely on their surroundings for everything from food and shelter to medicines.

We could list dozens of reasons why it is vital for our existence to protect it, but today we would like to talk about one reason in particular that we deemed particularly useful to take care of the environment.

A group of students from Yale University, Connecticut, have recently discovered a fungus in the Amazon rainforest that can break down the common plastic polyurethane, used in billions of discarded plastic bottles. The synthetic material used in plastic bottles degrades very slowly because of its complex chemical bonds. This is a huge threat to many of the ecosystems around the world, since the plastic bottles pile-up, amounting to approximately one billion tonnes since 1950s.

Plastic BottlesMillions of plastic bottles piled-up are threatening to choke many of the eco systems so vital for survival of life.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers from Yale University – Connecticut’s Rainforest Expedition and lab educational programme – scoured the Ecuadorian rainforest for plants and cultured the micro-organisms within their tissue. “Endophytes were isolated from plant stems collected in the Ecuadorian rainforest. A subset of these organisms was screened for their ability to degrade polyurethane,” the researchers said.

Endophytes are micro-organisms that live within the inner tissues of plants, but do not cause any noticeable disease symptoms in their hosts. They often play a key role in the decomposition of the plants after death, but never before have they been tested for their ability to degrade synthetic materials. The authors of the study hold out hope that further exploration of the properties of endophytes could reveal more miracle metabolisers that could potentially be used to degrade other kinds of plastics.

We see all this as strong evidence of the importance of protecting the Amazon rainforest. At Bloomtrigger we are convinced that there will continue to be many other relevant discoveries like this and for that reason we have to avoid more rainforest from being destroyed. Make your little contribution by signing up to the bloomtrigger project.



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