Discovery of Plastic-Degrading Fungus in Ocean Offers Hope for Pollution Mitigation

Discovery of Plastic-Degrading Fungus in Ocean Offers Hope for Pollution Mitigation

Researchers discovered that the fungus Parengyodontium album can break down the plastic polyethylene. P. album can only break down plastic that has first been exposed to UV radiation, indicating its ability to degrade plastic floating near the ocean surface.

Aim of Scientists

Scientists aim to identify other plastic-degrading organisms in deeper parts of the ocean, recognizing the importance of understanding the mechanisms of plastic degradation.

Habitat and Behavior

The fungus Parengyodontium album resides among other marine microbes in thin layers on plastic litter in the ocean, as observed in a study published in Science of the Total Environment.

Collection and Isolation of Microbes

Researchers went to hotspots of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Ocean to locate plastic-degrading microbes. They collected plastic litter and isolated the marine fungus by growing it on specialized plastic containing labeled carbon.

Tracing Degradation Process

Using labeled carbon isotopes, the team could follow the carbon and trace the degradation process. They found that the breakdown of polyethylene (PE) by P. album occurred at a rate of about 0.05 percent per day.

Quantifying Degradation

The ability to quantify the degradation process is deemed scientifically outstanding by lead author Annika Vaksmaa of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

Dependency on UV-Light

Experiments revealed that the fungus requires UV-light to use PE as an energy source, highlighting its preference for degrading plastic near the ocean’s surface.

Search for Other Organisms

The team anticipates the existence of other unknown marine fungi capable of degrading different plastics sinking into deeper layers of the ocean.

Importance of Discovery

As humans continue to produce large amounts of plastic, finding plastic-degrading organisms is critical to mitigate the impact of plastic waste on the ocean and seafloor ecosystems.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs):

  1. What type of plastic can the fungus Parengyodontium album break down?
    • A) Polypropylene
    • B) Polyethylene
    • C) Polystyrene
    • D) Polyvinyl chloride
    • Answer: B) Polyethylene
  2. Where was the plastic-degrading fungus Parengyodontium album discovered?
    • A) Atlantic Ocean
    • B) Arctic Ocean
    • C) North Pacific Ocean
    • D) Indian Ocean
    • Answer: C) North Pacific Ocean
  3. What factor is essential for the fungus Parengyodontium album to use polyethylene as an energy source?
    • A) High pressure
    • B) Low temperature
    • C) UV-light
    • D) Darkness
    • Answer: C) UV-light
  4. What is the rate of polyethylene breakdown by Parengyodontium album as discovered in the study?
    • A) 0.005 percent per day
    • B) 0.05 percent per day
    • C) 0.5 percent per day
    • D) 5 percent per day
    • Answer: B) 0.05 percent per day