A type of worm from the Dorvilleids family. The first known species to consume Archaea.

Life Will Always Find a Way… To Eat Everything

Article written: 12 Mar , 2012
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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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”.

You can read more about their research here.

Scraping fungus off a tree in Ecuador. Image credit: Yale University

Scraping fungus off a tree in Ecuador. Image credit: Yale University



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.


12 Responses

  1. Diane Rhodes says

    Ummm, that fungus doesn’t have any way out of the rain forest but us, right — because maybe that’s a bad idea? Sure hope they don’t want to eat the plastic we’re still using…

    • danangel says

      Sounds like a lead in for a good horror movie, ‘Giant fungus, visible from space, consumes most of North America!’

      • zkank says

        THAT is a great point!
        The sci-fi classic novel/movie “Andromeda Strain” comes to mind! (All the rubber in a jet fighter flying over the contaminated area disintegrates.)

      • krenshala says

        Not just rubber, it was all the long-chain polymers … including skin, and some other body parts of the unfortunate pilot(s).

  2. jorgecandeias says

    Sorry to go pedantic on you, Fraser, but eucaryota are not “multi-celled creatures like us”. Many eucaryota are single-celled creatures, including some species that are pretty important for the global ecosystem. Just to give you an example: diatomaceae, the main components of phytoplankton, are both eucaryotes and single-celled, even if some species live in colonies.

    Eucaryota are species whose cells show a nucleus containing DNA. A few eucaryotic species (fungii, mostly) are polynucleic, but this is basically it. In contrast, bacteria and archaea have no nucleus.

  3. Peristroika says

    Worms gots legs?

    • jorgecandeias says

      Not all worms, but those worms pictured here do. It’s a whole family of them, called polychaeta. They’re almost all marine and some are rather pretty.

      Also, technically those aren’t legs. They’re called “parapodia”.

  4. Member
    squidgeny says

    Speaking of pedantry, “eukaryote” is spelled with a k 😉

    I suspect it was just some bad wording on Fraser’s part – he was probably trying to clarify that all multi-celled creatures are eukaryotic.

    • jorgecandeias says

      Not in my beautiful Portuguese language, it ain’t. C all the way for the nucleate ones!

      It does contaminate my English from time to time, the bastard. If it wasn’t so beautiful, I’d kick its Romance butt because of that.

  5. zkank says

    Fraser wrote: “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.”

    Is it my comprehension, or is this statement in conflice? (He’s stating there IS a natural process: the fungus!)
    It would make more sense to me to add the words “…no *other* natural process (known) that…

  6. Torbjörn Larsson says

    They have found fungus (lichens, actually) that eat prions! Plastics is easy stuff after that.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Food webs relates feeding connections, and archaeans can be mutualists and commensalists. Therefore they wouldn’t be “completely disconnected” unless I am mistaken.

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