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MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling

Could fungi be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the plastic litter problem?

Alternative title: Kan muggsopp være både Dr. Jekyll og Mr. Hyde i plastavfallsproblemet?

Awarded: NOK 11.4 mill.

Project Number:


Project Period:

2023 - 2027


Subject Fields:

Partner countries:

The "Jekyll & Hyde" project will deal with two challenges with potentially serious consequences for the environment, animal and human health: The increasing amount of plastic waste in the environment and the spread of biocides and harmful bacterial and mold species. Both the increasing amount of plastic waste in the environment and the occurrence of harmful microorganisms are well-known problems. Plastic is used in virtually every part of society and despite an increasing degree of recycling, we currently have no definitive solutions for breaking down plastic waste. A result of this is an accumulation and spread of plastic waste in nature. At the same time, we are concerned about the presence of biocides in the environment and various foodstuffs, which, together with harmful microorganisms, may pose a significant health risk for animals and humans. So far, we don’t have sufficient information about whether plastic waste in the environment can contribute as a vector in the transport of biocides and / or harmful microorganisms. In the Jekyll & Hyde project, we will investigate the role plastic waste plays in the spread of harmful microorganisms in the environment. On the other hand, we will investigate the ability of selected mold species to break down plastic waste, thereby help reducing the occurrence of plastic in the environment. First, plastic waste will be collected from all over the country with the help of public research. The plastic samples will be analyzed for biocides, and bacteria and molds on the plastic will be identified. This will give us an overview of the extent of the challenges linked to the spread of biocides and microorganisms and we will then test selected mold species for their ability to break down plastic waste. The aim of the project is to give us a better understanding of the challenges associated with the spread of plastic waste in the environment, as well as to use the properties of selected molds to reduce the plastic waste problem.

Plastic litter is not only a problem by itself, but can carry microorganisms and substances that can be harmful to health and the natural environment. Some fungal species are efficient plastic decomposers [1, 2] and here we will elucidate if plastic litter can be a vector for biocides and harmful microorganisms (Mr. Hyde), and at the same time explore if fungi that sorb to plastic can be used as biodegraders of plastic waste (Dr. Jekyll). Based on a citizen science project, we want to collect plastic litter from various biotopes all over Norway, including agriculture, in order to 1) analyse levels of biocides on the plastic litter samples and 2) map the bacterial and fungal microbiota. Based on these results, we will select fungal taxa for lab scale plastic degradation experiments. This project will gain new knowledge that can contribute to • Increased understanding if and how plastic waste can be a vector for biocides and beneficial and harmful microorganisms and how this may have effect at the ecosystem level • increased understanding of the overall impact on current levels of biocides and the microbiome of plastics used in agriculture for the environment and microbial biodiversity, and propose measures to reduce this impact • future solutions for an effective eco-friendly management practice for plastic litter • propose measures and strategies to help to prevent the spread of and exposure to substances that are harmful to the environment Our methodological approach on examining both beneficial and harmful microorganisms in order to shed light on both environmental problems and innovative solutions to the problem has not been applied previously. Our ambition is that our novel approach to the plastic waste problem creates science, changes people and brings new technology beneficial for a cleaner environment.

Funding scheme:

MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling