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Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences
116, No., 2009; Pages: 253 - 265

Marine fungi - degraders of poly-3-hydroxyalkanoate based plastic materials

Milan N. Matavuly, Hans Peter Molitoris

Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Department of Biology and Ecology, D. Obradovicya Square 2, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia.


The search for new biosynthetic and biodegradable materials to save nonrenewable resources and reduce global pollution problems is an urgent task. Recently, materials like thermoplastic poly-3-hydroxyalkanoates (PHA), have been found synthesized by bacteria as storage materials. The major PHAs synthesized are poly-b-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), poly-b-hydroxyvalerate (PHV) and their copolymers. They are already commercially produced and used as BIOPOLTM (ICI, England). Their complete degradability by bacteria has already been shown. Today, oceans and estuaries serve as major landfills, and since fungi are an important part of the degrading microbiota, in order to prove their participation in the degradation process, a simple degradation test suitable for fungi and marine conditions had to be developed. Several solid media based on artificial sea water, differing in the content of non-alkanoate organics and supplemented with 0.1% PHA (or BIOPOLTM) as a main source of carbon have been tested. The testing principle consists of clearing the turbid medium in test tube or plates caused by suspended granules of PHA.

All media tested supported the growth of fungi. For the discrete and transparent clearing of zones, a mineral medium with 0.01% peptone, 0.01% yeast extract, and 0.1% PHB or BIOPOLTM was finally chosen where the fine and evenly distributed turbidity is accomplished by a specific procedure. This method allows the investigation of degradability of PHA-based plastic materials as well as screening for fungal ability to depolymerise pure PHA homopolymers. Using this medium, 32 strains of marine yeasts and 102 strains of marine mycelial fungi belonging to different systematic and ecological groups were tested for their ability to degrade PHAs. Only about 4% of the strains were able to degrade BIOPOLTM and about 6% depolymerised pure PHB homopolymer. This is in sharp contrast to the results of our previous experiments with 143 strains of terrestrial fungi which showed that 55% are able to degrade BIOPOLTM.

Keywords: PHA, BHB, BIOPOL, marine fungi, degradation, screening method.



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