This past week I had the most intriguing article show up in my Google alerts; Yale students find organisms to degrade polyurethane. In a 2008 trip to Equador, Yale undergraduates discovered organisms in Amazon rainforests fungi that have shown the ability to degrade polyurethanes all by themselves. Endophytes collected by students were taken back to New Haven and were analyzed as well as tested for biological activity, ability to be used in bioremediation, and other possible uses. In a rudimentary test, student Pria Anad showed that a chemical reaction did take place when a endophyte was introduced to plastic. The great thing is that the enzyme identified by Yale students is able to degrade plastic without the presence of oxygen, which in the future I could see greatly benefiting landfills/plastic trash disposal. This could open the doors to an entirely new way to reduce all of the plastic waste the world has accumulated.
Foe ENSO this is not a terribly new concept. Our ENSO Biodegradable plastics additive was inspired by nature’s ability to breakdown plastic materials. By examining nature we have created a scenario inspired by the very concept of microbial digestion. The ENSO additive allows any plastic polymer to become degradable in a landfill. How have we made that possible? By adding our organic ENSO additive into standard plastic during the manufacturing process, the plastic will become recognizable by nature so that it will biodegrade (while keeping the same attributes of the original plastic.) When ENSO products are thrown away, the organic blend creates a perfect environment and food source for microbes in a landfill. As microbes consume the additive, they secrete enzymes. These enzymes break down the polymer chain into materials that are easily consumed by microbes. The end result is carbon dioxide, methane, and healthy, new soil.
Check out the original article about the Yale undergraduates fantastic discovery below!
Urethanes Technology International
Aug. 2 — Yale undergraduates have discovered organisms in Amazon Rainforest fungi which can degrade polyurethanes. The discovery, which is featured in the journal “Applied and Environmental Microbiology,” may lead to innovative ways to reduce waste in the world´s landfills, the university said in a press release.
The undergraduates were participating in Yale´s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
“This shows amazing things can happen when you let undergraduates be creative,” said Kaury Kucera, postdoctoral researcher in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and co-instructor of the course.
Students collect endophytes found in rainforest plants and take them back to New Haven to test for biological activity and then analyze any that show biological activity to see what medical or other uses might be possible.
On the 2008 trip to Equador, student Pria Anand decided to see if the endophytes she collected could be used in bioremediation. In a rudimentary test, Anand showed a chemical reaction did take place when an endophyte she found was introduced to plastic.
Jeffrey Huang analyzed endophytes collected by other students on the 2008 trip to find those that broke down chemical bonds most efficiently.
Then Jon Russell discovered that one family of endophytes identified by Huang showed the most promise for bioremediation. Russell went on to identify the enzyme that most efficiently broke down polyurethane.
While other agents can degrade polyurethane, the enzyme identified by Yale students holds particular promise because it also degrades plastic in the absence of oxygen — a feature which the university points out is “a prerequisite for bioremediation of buried trash.”