Biodegradation of polyethylene microplastics by the marine fungus Zalerion maritimum

Plastic yearly production has surpassed the 300 million tons mark and recycling has all but failed in constituting a viable solution for the disposal of plastic waste. As these materials continue to accumulate in the environment, namely, in rivers and oceans, in the form of macro-, meso-, micro- and nanoplastics, it becomes of the utmost urgency to find new ways to curtail this environmental threat. Multiple efforts have been made to identify and isolate microorganisms capable of utilizing synthetic polymers and recent results point towards the viability of a solution for this problem based on the biodegradation of plastics resorting to selected microbial strains.

Herein, the response of the fungus Zalerion maritimum to different times of exposition to polyethylene (PE) pellets, in a minimum growth medium, was evaluated, based on the quantified mass differences in both the fungus and the microplastic pellets used. Additionally, molecular changes were assessed through attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR-ATR) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).

Results showed that, under the tested conditions, Z. maritimum is capable of utilizing PE, resulting in the decrease, in both mass and size, of the pellets. These results indicate that this naturally occurring fungus may actively contribute to the biodegradation of microplastics, requiring minimum nutrients.

Ana Paço, Kátia Duarte, João P. da Costa and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 586, 15 May 2017, Pages 10–15

The article

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