The heaps of plastic that keep piling up every year is a major global concern. In India, this problem just keeps getting worse due to improper waste management strategies. With each passing day, it only keeps getting worse. It has been established that there occur certain types of plastic that, like rubber, are bound together by the same chemical bonds that are found in natural plant polymers. Fixating on this point, in this project we will be exploring the ability of fungi that reside inside plants to degrade synthetic plastics and rubbers.
Several studies and researches conducted in the field of synthetic polymer biodegradation and these showed that certain kinds of bacteria and fungi are capable of producing enzymes that have the ability to degrade plastic and rubber, of course, under maintained laboratory conditions. This is exactly the kind of resource that needs to be tapped. As mentioned above, there are kinds of plastic and rubbers having the same chemical bonds found in natural plant polymers, our specific target here is endophytes - organisms that grow symbiotically inside plants - as they have the ability to degrade synthetic plastics and rubbers. This project could be the most fitting answer to India’s plastic and rubber woes , and ultimately even the world’s.
Though plastic and rubber are an indispensable part of our lives, they are increasingly becoming a burden for the environment. These synthetic polymers are cheap to manufacture and are also resilient, which hints at the fact that they can linger on for a long time in the environment. Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous boost in synthetic polymer production with over 250 million tons of plastic being produced every year! Although recycling helps to reduce the amount of plastic waste, as of yet there are no such methods that promise to wipe off the menace of plastic and rubber. The most popular method of disposing plastic and rubber in India is incineration, which only adds to the air toxicity. Therefore, there is a real need for finding a promising solution to this and our project a pivotal step in that direction.
Previously, an endophytic fungus named Pestalotiopsismicrospora had been used to degrade plastic polyester polyurethane. This fungus secretes an enzyme that has degrading abilities. At present our project goals are to: 1) Characterize enzymatic degradation by Pestalotiopsismicrospora - Isolate and characterize enzymatic degradation - Compare enzyme efficiency to other polyester-degrading enzymes - Evaluate degradation of solid polyester polyurethane and other plastics - Evaluate degradation of plastic by P. microspora in simulated landfill conditions (collaboration) 2) Screen for new plastic- and rubber- degrading fungi - Screen fungi collections for degradation of different synthetic polymers - For promising candidates, sequence the genomes and look for possible novel plastic- or rubber-degrading genes - Analyze candidates using gel permeation chromatography (molecular weight changes) and scanning electron microscopy (visual degradation)
Carrying out this project is an expensive affair and hence the fundraiser plea. Our budget will be divided into the following: Procuring lab supplies necessary for the growth and maintenance of the fungal cultures and enzymatic characterization Procuring materials for additional plastic and rubber screens Buying equipment such as scanning electron microscopy and gel permeation chromatography Expeditions to places from where we can collect the fungi samples Sequencing the genomes of the fungi to identify the responsible gene(s) and to synthesize genes that code for putative plastic or rubber degrading enzymes for future studies We sincerely hope for your wholehearted support in this!