Plastic eating microbes to the rescue: evolution may be finding a solution to the problem of plastic waste

Last week Sami covered news that microplastics are found in 93% of bottled water and the highest microplastic contamination levels ever were found in an English river. The preferred solution to pollution requires acting at the source to prevent the contaminants from entering the environment in the first place. But as it is clear there is already a big mess to clean up , and as we probably won't stop using plastics today, it seems worth looking at progress in managing the problem. So we circled back around on Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 (i. sakaiensis for short), a microbe that Japanese scientists found merrily munching away on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) . It has long been known that if you give a population of microbes a reduced level of food source and a lot of contaminants that they could chew on if they get hungry enough, evolution will do the rest. As...
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Sea level fears as more of giant Antarctic glacier floating than thought

The Totten Glacier is one of the fastest-flowing and largest glaciers in Antarctica with scientists keen to keep a close eye on how it melts given the enormous amount of water it could potentially unleash. Using artificially created seismic waves that help scientists see through the ice, researchers have discovered that more of the Totten Glacier floats on the ocean than initially thought. “In some locations we thought were grounded, we detected the ocean below indicating that the glacier is in fact floating,” said Paul Winberry from Central Washington University, who spent the summer in Antarctica studying the Totten. The findings are important because recent studies have shown the Totten Glacier’s underbelly is already being eroded by warm, salty sea water flowing hundreds of kilometres inland after passing through underwater “gateways”. As it does, the portion of the glacier resting on water rather than rock increases, accelerating the pace of...
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The decades-long quest to end drought (and feed millions) by taking the salt out of seawater

I n October 2017, Charlie Paton was driving across the parched plains of northwestern Somaliland when he passed a seemingly endless queue of rumbling trucks. Each was piled high with containers of grain – 47,000 tonnes in all – to be distributed as food aid across Somalia and Ethiopia. Paton was struck by the irony: it was the region’s harvest season, and yet here were trucks delivering industrial quantities of grain that would surely strip whatever meagre business there was away from local producers. “Suddenly, the place is awash with food,” he recalls thinking. “Who’s going to buy food from a farmer when it’s free?” Huge drops of food aid are common in the drought- and famine-plagued Horn of Africa. This year alone, the United Nations is appealing for $1.6 billion in aid just for Somalia – a fact that unsettles Paton. “That $1.6 billion could probably make the place...
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China’s latest energy megaproject shows that coal really is on the way out

Leanna Garfield, provided by Published 10:09 am, Monday, March 19, 2018 Sungrow The Chinese province of Anhui built a massive floating solar farm on top of an abandoned coal mine. An even larger floating solar plant will come online by May 2018.Due to rising concerns surrounding air pollution-related deaths, China is trying to invest more heavily in renewable energy projects. A new study indicates that, on average, Chinese cities have cut deadly air pollution particles by 32% over the past four years.The new solar farms are part of the global shift away from energy generated from fossil fuels. China has some of the worst air pollution in the world. In several cities, thick layers of smog are common, resulting in thousands of deaths every year. According to a 2016 study , the top contributor of air pollution-related deaths in China is the burning of coal. The team of Chinese and American researchers behind...
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