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German scientists use fungi to clean soil, water

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Fungi get a bad rap, but they can actually be quite useful. German researchers are developing new ways of using fungus to clean soil and water.

Fungi have earned their reputation as a homeowner's nightmare. Once they've settled into wood and been exposed to moisture, all that's left are brittle remains that turn into dust at the slightest touch.

Fungi get their destructive abilities from enzymes that break down lignin, a complex chemical compound that is largely responsible for holding wood together. Enzymes in fungi, including the so-called laccase enzyme, are among the few compounds capable of decomposing lignin.

B tapping into the power of these enzymes, German scientists are finding new ways to use fungi to break down toxins, including at sewage treatment plants.

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