London: Scientists say they have found a "plastic-eating" fungi in the Amazon rainforest, which they claim could save the world from one of its biggest man-made environmental catastrophe.
A team at Yale University says that the fungus in the Amazon rainforest can break down common plastic polyurethane.
One of the most widely used plastics, the global consumption of polyurethane raw materials in 2007 was above 12 million tons, with an average annual growth rate in its use of about five per cent.
As part of Yale`s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory educational programme, the researchers scoured the Ecuadorian rainforest for plants and cultured the micro-organisms within their tissue, the `Daily Mail` reported.
The scientists said: "Endophytes were isolated from plant stems collected in the Ecuadorian rainforest. A subset of these organisms was screened for their ability to degrade polyurethane.
"Several active organisms were identified, including two distinct isolates of Pestalotiopsis microspora with the ability to efficiently degrade and utilise PUR as the sole carbon source when grown anaerobically."
Endophytes are micro-organisms that live within the inner tissues of plants, but do not cause any noticeable disease symptoms in their hosts. They play a key role in decomposition of the plants after death, but never before have they been tested for their ability to degrade synthetic materials.
"Each of the more than 300,000 land plant species on Earth potentially hosts multiple endophyte species. Only a small sampling of plants have been examined for their endophytic associations, yet many of these organisms can be readily cultured.
"Endophytes reach their greatest diversity in tropical forests. Individual trees can harbor hundreds of endophytic species, some of which are known but many of which are new to science," the researchers wrote in `Applied and Environmental Microbiology` journal.