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Yale researchers find fungus that can break down plastic

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There’s a course at Yale University in which undergraduates travel to the Amazon rain forest to collect fungi.

The fungus samples are often nothing you’ve encountered. One of them, however, which will be featured in a paper accepted by a scientific journal, might solve the problem of polyurethane building up in our landfills. The fungus basically eats the plastic and breaks it down into carbon.

That’s just one discovery being studied in the Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course taught by professor Scott A. Strobel.

“We take 15 undergraduates into the Ecuadorean rain forest and collect plant samples,” said Kaury Kucera, co-instructor of the course and a postdoctoral researcher in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

The fungus they’re looking for “grows in the inner tissues of plant samples that is symbiotic with the plant and often produces natural compounds that are interesting to medicine,” Kucera said.

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