Fungus breaks down ocean plastic

Every year, humans produce more than 400 billion kilograms of plastic, and much of that plastic ends up in de sea (photo: Naja Berthold Jansen/Unsplash)

Publication date: Monday 03 June 2024

A fungus living in the sea can break down the plastic polyethylene, provided it has first been exposed to UV radiation from sunlight. Researchers from, among others, NIOZ published their results in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment. They expect that many more plastic degrading fungi are living in deeper parts of the ocean.

The fungus Parengyodontium album lives together with other marine microbes in thin layers on plastic litter in the ocean. Marine microbiologists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) discovered that the fungus is capable of breaking down particles of the plastic polyethylene (PE), the most abundant of all plastics that have ended up in the ocean. The NIOZ researchers cooperated with colleagues from Utrecht University, the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and research institutes in Paris, Copenhagen and St Gallen, Switzerland. The finding allows the fungus to join a very short list of plastic-degrading marine fungi: only four species have been found to date. A larger number of bacteria was already known to be able to degrade plastic…