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The Compostable Plastic Poly(lactic) Acid Causes a Temporal Shift in Fungal Communities in Maturing Compost

Karamanlioglu, M and Preziosi, R and Robson, GD (2017) The Compostable Plastic Poly(lactic) Acid Causes a Temporal Shift in Fungal Communities in Maturing Compost. Compost Science and Utilization, 25 (4). pp. 211-219. ISSN 1065-657X (In Press)


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The compostable biopolymer, poly(lactic) acid (PLA), is increasingly being used as an alternative to conventional plastics for short shelf-life products, disposable bags and packaging, and in agriculture. Despite the increase in the amount of PLA entering composting systems, few studies have examined the impact of PLA degradation on the compost microbial community. Thermophilic fungi play an import role in the composting process as they secrete hydrolytic enzymes capable of breaking down an array of complex natural polymers. In this study, the impact of PLA hydrolysis on the compost fungal community was examined by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and 454 sequencing. At 25°C, the effect of PLA on the surrounding compost community was relatively small and no physical changes were observed to the PLA films. However, when incubated at 50°C, where physical disintegration of PLA was occurring, a clear divergence between the compost populations in the presence and absence of PLA was evident after 2 months but became closer to the population in the absence of PLA after 4 months indicating that, after causing an initial perturbation after 2 months, the population began to return to that seen in the absence of PLA. The only exception was in the population containing 50% (w/w) PLA film, which remained divergent after 4 months and was associated with a marked acidification of the compost. Thus, 454-pyrosequencing revealed that the presence of PLA caused a strong selection for a Thermomyces sp. that was present only at low abundance in the absence of PLA.

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