Published online 27 June 2001 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news010628-11

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Fungus eats CD

Spores bore holes in compact disks, rendering them useless.

The pits: fungal attack wipes CD data.The pits: fungal attack wipes CD data.© Photodisc

Computers get viruses. Code gets bugs. Now CDs get fungus. Researchers in Spain have discovered a fungus that eats holes in compact discs, corrupting the information stored in them.

After visiting Belize in Central America, Victor Cardenes of Madrid's National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN), found one of his CDs discoloured, transparent and unreadable.

The disk's aluminium and polycarbonate layers were riddled with fungus, Cardenes and his colleagues have discovered.

The team has isolated and cultured what they believe to be Geotrichum candidum. Usually, this fungus lives on plants and animals. Occasionally it infects the human respiratory tract. DNA analysis is pending.

Burrowing in like worms from the side of the disk, "the fungus destroyed crucial information pits", says team-member Javier Garcia-Guinea. Pits in a CD's aluminium and polycarbonate sandwich store binary data, which is read by a laser.

Grooving: fungus spores bore through a CD.Grooving: fungus spores bore through a CD.© SPL

Some fungi are known to live on plastics and polymers, but this is the first report of a CD being eaten by a fungus. The researchers believe that the spores probably entered the CD in Belize.

The rarity of this phenomenon suggests that Belize's high temperatures and tropical humidity were crucial. To find out more, the Spanish group has posted an offer on the internet to analyse unreadable CDs from anyone wanting to test their disks for fungal infection. They have also submitted their work to the journal Natur Wissenschaften.

The problem with fungi is that we know far less about them than about bacteria, explains environmental microbiologist Marc Valls of Madrid's National Center. The finding that one has a taste for CDs is "not very surprising" he says, but it offers hope that fungi with similarly unusual proclivities might be exploited for environmental clean-up.