Like it or not, plastic devours much of the human-created landscape. From signs to streets to building material and even the water we drink, everything comes wrapped in a single-use nightmare of waste.
Switching to more natural packaging seems obvious but ignores the fact that many manufacturing machines were designed with less biodegradable containers in mind. Plus, even if every nation discontinued the use of single-use plastics immediately, Earth and her waters would remain covered in patches of discarded gas station meal wrappings for decades or longer.
However, nature often finds a way to triumph over man-made ignorance. One of these special designs, a certain magic mushroom, may contribute to saving both our earth and humanity from extinction under a mountain of refuse.
What Is Pestalotiopsis Microspora?
Ever since the first hungry human braved possible death by poison to avoid starvation, mushrooms have remained a part of popular folklore and wisdom. Native Americans used a species of mushroom to commune with the spirit world, and early parchments from other cultures support the idea they weren’t alone. Ironically, though, a variation of the tool once used to commune with the Great Beyond now may save very mortal flesh.
The mushroom Pestalotiopsis Microspora possesses unique taste buds if fungus had a tongue. Most mushrooms raise eyebrows for growing in human or animal waste. Pestalotipsis does so, too, but not the kind of waste that commonly went into nighttime chamber pots back in the days immediately following the Industrial Revolution.
Pestalotiopsis doesn’t dine on poo. This unique fungus prefers chowing down on plastic . And humanity is far luckier for it.
How Do Mushrooms Grow, Anyway?
Regular gardeners find it unsurprising that mushrooms typically grow best in unpalatable substrates. They’ve experienced the dubious joy of schlepping home a heavy bag of mulch from the local nursery to blanket the delicate roots of their new tomato plants only to discover they were growing more than the base of a pasta dish.
Unlike chlorophyll-containing plants, mushrooms don’t rely on photosynthesis but on taking nourishment from the soil or other material where their spores land . They can grow independently of sunshine given adequate warmth. In a way, mushrooms more resemble certain other living organisms that survive near sulfuric oceanic vents than daisies or daylilies.
Put it this way — if humans were plants such as trees or dandelions, mushrooms would win major starring roles on “The Walking Dead.” Granted, they’d be painted as the undead, but when it comes to fungi, the title of “zombie” hardly sounds insulting. After all, if humanity is to resurrect itself, it may need a bit of “super” natural assistance.
Clearing Up Human Clutter with Helpful Shrooms
Outside of chefs armed with cloves of garlic and white wine, mushrooms enjoy little appreciation today. The recent discovery of the abilities of Pestalotiopsis may lead more than those working the kitchens to idolize this humble fellow inhabitant of Earth.
While scientists have identified bacteria that can devour ocean plastic, organisms which could do so on soil have proven harder to come by. One of the most common forms of plastic waste, polyethylene terephthalate, the primary ingredient in most single-use plastics found in landfills, required photosynthesis at the minimum to reproduce. This meant refuge buried deep in landfills where the energy of the sun could not penetrate remained buried until unearthed by developers.
Because Pestalotipsis requires no photosynthesis, scientists hope the fungus will begin cleaning landfills from the bottom up, discarded Evian and snack trays alike. Instead of needing to work their way down, the mushrooms will push their way up, leaving few scraps in their wake.
The discovery may have come none too soon. Even if human beings take aggressive action to combat climate change, should global temperatures increase by as little a two degrees Fahrenheit, hundreds of millions of people will find their homes underwater . And these floodwaters won’t reside in time for people to simply pick up and rebuild.
The Politics of Climate Change and Pestalotiopsis
While many nations have accepted the scientific reality of climate change and its implications for human life, some political developments, such as those occurring in the U.S., threaten to derail progress. However, few world leaders, regardless of their ideological leanings, can find much of a fight to pick with a fungus.
Even the human food chain has undergone disruption in the wake of plastic pollution. Those who consume seafood regularly may unwittingly consume a hefty dose of polyethylene along with their shrimp cocktail . The long-term health effects of such consumption remain unknown, but researchers know from basic observation that animals who consume plastic waste slowly starve to death even while they consume more and more.
Trying to enforce compliance with measures intended to combat pollution on an international scale proves difficult, but allowing a fungus to do the dirty work bypasses cultural and political differences. Human beings, once accustomed to even self-defeating habits are slow to change, but Pestalotipsis requires no sacrifice or behavioral modifications. Philosophers can wrangle with the debate as to why people behave in a manner counter-intuitive to the survival of the species. In the meantime, though, the planet needs saving, and this humble fungus offers one way to accomplish that goal.
Cleaning Up Plastic Waste Naturally
Should people fail to address the problem of plastic waste, the impact on human and animal life makes continued survival on this planet a dubious proposition. Fortunately, Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom has provided a nearly painless way to address this critical issue. By working with, not against nature, the world can enjoy the convenience and hygienic benefits of single-use plastics without traveling the road to extinction in the process.