Novel Fungal Approach Shows Promise in Removing Microplastics from Water

by Anna

Researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Research have made significant strides in addressing the challenge of microplastics in water, potentially offering an innovative biological solution for their removal. The study, titled “Microplastics removal in the aquatic environment via fungal pelletization,” was led by Dr. Huaimin Wang, a post-doctoral scientist in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.

Microplastics, minuscule plastic particles originating from various sources, have become a growing concern due to their environmental impact and potential harm to ecosystems. They are particularly challenging because they are often too small to be effectively filtered out in wastewater treatment plants, posing a serious threat to aquatic environments and potentially entering the food chain.


The research explored the use of fungal pelletization as a means of removing microplastics from aquatic environments, a novel approach that has not been extensively studied until now. The team, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, sought to determine the feasibility of this method.


Dr. Susie Dai, an associate professor in the department, highlighted the significance of this research, stating that while fungal pelletization has previously been employed for algae harvesting and wastewater treatment, its application for microplastics removal had not been explored.


The study focused on submicrometer microplastics, those measuring less than a micron in size, which are considered particularly hazardous due to their potential for long-range transport and ease of penetration into living organisms, including plants and even human placentas.


The team identified three fungal strains, including two newly isolated white rot fungi strains, known for their fast growth and other beneficial characteristics. The study demonstrated that these fungal strains were effective in removing common microplastics such as polystyrene and polymethyl methacrylate ranging from 200 nanometers to 5 micrometers in size from the aquatic environment.

The key mechanism behind this success was the microplastics’ attachment to the surface of fungal biomass, facilitating their removal as part of the pellet.

This innovative approach offers promise not only for microplastics removal but also for potential applications in wastewater treatment and minimizing plastic pollution in natural water bodies. The unique capacity of white rot fungal strains to form pellets makes them particularly suitable for addressing microplastic contamination.

Dr. Dai’s research extends beyond microplastics and includes the remediation of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Fungi have demonstrated their versatility in bioremediation, offering hope for sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.

Dr. Dai’s work aligns with the growing urgency to address environmental issues and develop novel technologies that safeguard ecosystems and human health, providing a valuable contribution to the field of bioremediation.

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