'Mutarium' prototype is the perfect farm for edible plastic-eating fungi

Biodegradable plastics exist because traditional ones take between 20 and 1,000 years to break down in the wild, often blocking waterways and killing animals as that all happens. That's why two industrial designers and a group of microbiologists have designed a way to break down plastic -- and create edible mushrooms in the process. To be precise, the team (the designers are from Vienna, Austria, while the microbiologists are from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands) created something called the Fungi Mutarium: a glass dome that houses hollow egg-like pods containing bits of plastic in their cavities. These "pods" serve as food to nourish the fungi, as they're made of agar, sugar and starch, similar to those agar plates used to culture organisms in labs.

Mycelia (the thread-like parts of a mushroom that another team used to create biodegradable drones) mixed in liquid are then dropped into the pods, eating through the agar and the plastic pieces as they grow. The result? Edible mycelia with a neutral taste. Obviously, small domes and pods like the team's prototype can't solve the world's plastic problem, especially since it takes months for the fungi to eat through small pieces of plastic. The scientists are now looking for ways to speed up the process by manipulating the temperature, humidity and other elements of the environment inside the dome. They're also considering genetically modifying the fungi to make them grow faster, though they first need to find more funding to make that happen.

[Image credit: Livin Studio]