Hungry for a solution to our world’s environmental problems? So are a number of organisms that scientists are hoping will some day be used to mitigate oil spills, lessen the effects of climate change, break down plastics, and provide alternative fuel sources. By harnessing the power of the all-powerful appetite, researchers hope to find creatures that will make a meal out of our wastes and transform them into something less toxic and perhaps even beneficial.
·Fungal Food: Researchers from Yale found a new species of fungus in the Amazon, Pestalotiopsis microspora, that feeds on polyurethane in oxygen-free environments. Now, the ubiquitous and nearly indestructible plastics that were once sure to persist for generations may now be able to be digested in landfills and other controlled environments.
·Gribble Guts: The digestive tract of a small wood-munching crustacean may hold the key to a new source of biofuel. The gribble, a notorious diner of fishing boats and ocean-side piers, produces a set of enzymes to help break down plant matter instead of relying on bacteria like most other organisms. These chemicals could help covert cellulose into simple sugars that could then be fermented and used to power cars.
·Have You Herd: Moose, reindeer and other grazers may help to help cool warming areas of the tundra in Siberia. By keeping grass healthy and trampling snow, these browsers help to maintain the permafrost and sustain the plants that reflect sunlight and trap greenhouse gasses. Repopulating land with the animals not only results in a short term temperature drop, but by mitigating the effects of climate change, could also contribute to a more long term adjustment in the weather.
·Micro-Managing: Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered oil-digesting bacteria in the waters of the Gulf in the wake of the BP Horizon spill. These microbes seem to love hydrocarbons and are able to break down many of the compounds found in crude oil in a short amount of time. Some would like to culture and spray these bacteria over the Gulf in order to take care of the remains of the disaster. However, while the debate continues as to how effective the bacteria would be, they are certainly becoming a topic of great interest for those looking for a biologically centered cleanup solution.