Researchers have managed use fungi to transform plastic refuse from the Pacific Ocean into pharmaceutical industry ingredients.
The groundbreaking research is from the University of Kansas, and the team used fungi to create a chemical, biological approach for the conversion.
The scientist used a genetically altered soil fungus, Aspergillus nidulans, for digesting polyethylene to produce a series of pharmaceutical components, including asperbenzaldehyde, citreoviridin and mutilin.
Commenting on the work, Berl Oakley, study co-author and Irving S. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology at KU stated:
“What we’ve done in this paper is to first digest polyethylenes using oxygen and some metal catalysts — things that are not particularly harmful or expensive — and this breaks the plastics into diacids.”
“The thing that’s different about this approach is it’s two things — it’s chemical, and it’s fungal…But it’s also relatively fast. With a lot of these attempts, the fungus can digest the material, but it takes months because the plastics are so hard to break down. But this breaks the plastics down fast. Within a week you can have the final product…Of the mass of diacids that goes into the culture, 42% comes back as the final compound…If our technique was a car, it would be doing 200 miles per hour, getting 60 miles per gallon, and would run on reclaimed cooking oil.”
Addressing the uses of the discovery, Oakley added:
“I think everybody knows that plastics are a problem…They’re accumulating in our environment. There’s a big area in the North Pacific where they tend to accumulate. But also you see plastic bags blowing around — they’re in the rivers and stuck in the trees. The squirrels around my house have even learned to line their nest with plastic bags. One thing that’s needed is to somehow get rid of the plastic economically, and if one can make something useful from it at a reasonable price, then that makes it more economically viable.”
You can read the original study here.