Scientists discover plastic-eating fungus in Pacific Garbage Patch

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research,

Plastic pollution has been a persistent problem since the material was first introduced, and we humans have tried so many methods to address it. However, a surprising discovery suggests that nature itself may offer a solution.

A team of marine scientists has identified an ocean-dwelling fungus that is consuming plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, spanning from the West Coast of North America to Japan.

Named Parengyodontium album, the fungus was discovered among other microbes living in and around the floating plastic accumulating in the North Pacific.

This fungus is the fourth marine fungus known to be capable of breaking down plastic waste. It can also break down UV-exposed carbon-based polyethylene, which is commonly used in products such as grocery bags and water bottles.

Annika Vaksmaa, the study’s lead author and a marine biologist and biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, explains: “UV light already breaks down plastic mechanically. However, our results show that it also facilitates marine fungi’ biological breakdown of plastic.”

While this discovery is promising, we must remain vigilant and responsible in our disposal of single-use plastics. And such is the scale of the ocean plastic program already, that it would take more than many lifetimes for marine fungi to make inroads to the backlog.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.

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