In the forest, certain fungi attach to trees and fallen logs to break down and digest the carbon within their wood before releasing it as carbon dioxide. But when their preferred meal isn’t available, these wood-decaying fungi can chow down on plastic instead, according to a new study published July 26 in the journal PLOS One.
White-rot fungi can break down lignin — an extremely strong organic polymer that helps give wood its rigidity — by using enzymes, which are proteins that accelerate the chemical reactions that take place within cells.
“We were thinking, if these fungi can decay these decay-resistant hardwoods, and lignin particularly … they have some weapons with them to decay some other polymers as well,” such as polyethylene, or plastic, study co-author Renuka Attanayake, a plant pathology professor at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, told Live Science.
“Writer Fuel” is a series of cool real-world stories that might inspire your little writer heart. Check out our Writer Fuel page on the LimFic blog for more inspiration.