Fungal degradation of polyhydroxyalkanoates and a semiquantitative assay for screening their degradation by terrestrial fungi

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The current problems with decreasing fossile resources and increasing environmental pollution by petrochemical-based plastics have stimulated investigations to find biosynthetic materials which are also biodegradable. Bacterial reserve materials such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) have been discovered to possess thermoplastic properties and can be synthesized from renewable resources. Poly-β-hydroxybutyric acid (PHB) is at present the most promising PHA; and BIOPOL, its copolymer with poly-β-hydroxy-valerate (PHV), is already industrially produced (ICI, UK), and used as packaging material (WELLA, FRG). According to the literature, PHA degradation has so far mainly been observed in bacteria; only under certain environmental conditions has fungal degradation of PHAs been indicated. Since fungi constitute an important part of microbial populations participating in degradation processes, a simple screening method for fungal degradation of BIOPOL, a PHA-based plastic, was developed. Several media with about 150 fungal strains from different terrestrial environments and belonging to different systematic and ecological groups were used. PHA depolymerization was tested on three PHB-based media, each with 0.1% BIOPOL or PHB homopolymer causing turbidity of the medium. The media contained either a comparatively low or high content of organic carbon (beside PHA) or were based on mineral medium with PHA as the principal source of carbon. The degradation activity was detectable due to formation of a clear halo around the colony (Petri plates) or a clear zone under the colony (test tubes). All fungal strains tested were able to grow on all three media. Growth, activity and clarity of PHA-degradation, however, differed depending on the medium used. For screening of BIOPOL degradation the mineral medium with 0.1% BIOPAL, 0.01% yeast extract and 0.01% peptone proved most satisfactory and showed about 55% of the fungal strains to be active, regardless of systematic and ecological groups. © 1992.




Matavulj, M., & Molitoris, H. P. (1992). Fungal degradation of polyhydroxyalkanoates and a semiquantitative assay for screening their degradation by terrestrial fungi. FEMS Microbiology Letters, 103(2–4), 323–331.

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