A couple of consumption stories crossed my desk today, so I thought I’d merge them together. The bottom line is that everything’s on the menu. If there’s energy to be extracted from something, life is going to find a way to consume it.
We’ve got a deep sea worm that seems to be able to thrive from any of the three main branches of life on Earth – the first known example of a creature that consumes Archaea.
And then there’s the discovery of a fungus capable of consuming large amounts of polyurethane plastic.
Eating from all three branches of the tree of life
The first example of this comes from research done at Oregon State University about a single-celled microorganism called Archaea. This class of life is one of the three basic “domains of life” on Earth, including bacteria and eukaryota (multi-celled creatures like us).
Scientists believed that Archaea were completely disconnected from the food web – the circle of life just didn’t include them – but researchers at Oregon State University tried feeding two varieties of Archaea to a type of deep sea worms that live near the “black smoker” vents off the coast of North America.
To their surprise, these worms were perfectly happy eating Archaea, as well as standard meals of bacteria, spinach or rice. They grew at the same rate, regardless of what branch their food was hanging from on the tree of life.
That brings new meaning to the term “omnivore”.
Next up, a fungus that will eat your plastic.
Researchers from Yale University have discovered a variety of fungi in the Amazon Rainforest (where else?), that can “eat” a common form of plastic known as polyurethane. This, of course, would be the holy grail of recycling, since there’s no natural process that will get rid of plastic.
While exploring the Amazon, they discovered a fungus in the rainforest of Ecuador and brought it back to the lab for analysis. They experimented with it a bit and discovered just how quickly it could consume plastic. In one report, the fungus was only 10 days old and had significantly consumed about a quart’s worth of plastic – without needing any oxygen.
The puzzling part, of course, is trying to figure out what this fungus normally eats in the wild, since it’s not growing on plastic trees.
Here’s more info on the plastic gobbling fungus.