60-Second Earth

Living Plastic Eats Spilt Food

Researchers impregnate layers of plastic with fungus to produce a living--and self-cleaning--material. David Biello reports

You are covered with fungus right now. But wouldn't it be cooler if you did it on purpose?

That's what Swiss scientists think. They've designed special plastic layers that provide a good home for the fungus Penicilium roqueforti. Yes, it's related to the medicine penicillin. And yes, it's the fungus you eat in blue cheese.

But in the case of the new, living material, the idea was to create a self-cleaning surface. By making the layers of plastic porous, but not too porous, the researchers both kept the fungus in place and allowed nutrients and gases to flow in and out. That let the fungus clean up food spills on the plastic's surface. The novel material was recently described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Voila: a living material that can clean itself up, in this case after a little spilled potato soup. As the scientists put it, this is quote "the first eating material" and one that in future could also lead to self-sterilizing materials. My only question is: how would it look as a shirt?

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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