Scientists: CD Rot For Real

The compact disc has given rise to all sorts of questionable accessories: magic pens with green ink, reflective stickers, rim dampers, absorbent mats, spindle weights, cleaners, buffers, polishers, and demagnetizers. It's amazing how many products are needed to make perfect sound perfect.

To that ever-growing list of panaceas, you may wish to add a fungal inhibitor—especially if you live in a tropical region. After receiving several reports of CDs rotting in the hot, humid countries of Central America, Spanish scientists have isolated a fungus belonging to the Geotrichum family that actually consumes the plastic exterior and aluminum substrate in compact discs. The fungus gets a foothold in the disc's outer edge and gradually eats its way toward the center, eventually making the CD unplayable. According to one BBC report on the phenomenon, an infected disc brought back from Belize appeared to be developing a case of citrus mold.

Music fans in temperate climates needn't worry, according to researcher Marc Valls of Spain's National Center for Biotechnology. "Even though this fungus is widespread," Valls commented, "it could only develop on a CD in high humidity and high temperature, which is not the case most of the time."

Fans of vinyl records shouldn't feel too smug about the development, either. The fungus appears to be a new mutation that has adapted to consume man-made materials. Although it is unusual, the CD-eating fungus is not an isolated case, according to Valls. "Nature is very clever and, for all the materials that we design, sooner or later they will be degraded by some organism." Vinyl is one such material.

The fungus was identified by Javier Garcia-Guinea, a geologist at the Museum of Natural History in Madrid. Dr. Garcia-Guinea said his institute had received many reports of similar occurrences in tropical regions throughout the world.