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Scientists just created an enzyme that rapidly breaks down plastic pollution
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Last year, we shared the sad impact that plastic pollution has had on some of our planet's most beautiful places. With recycling not turning out to be the savior it was made out to be, solutions to our growing plastic problem can seem distant and complex.

We have seen some glimmers of hope from both human innovation and nature itself, however. In 2016, a bacteria that evolved with the ability to break down plastic was discovered in a Japanese waste site. Two years later, scientists managed to engineer the mutant plastic-eating enzyme they called PETase—named for polyethylene terephthalate, the most common plastic found in bottles and food packaging—in a lab.

Here's an explainer of how those enzymes work:

Ending Plastic Pollution with Designer Bacteriayoutu.be

Now researchers have revealed another game-changer in the plastic-eater—asuper-enzyme that can break down plastic six times faster than PETase alone.


The super-enzyme is a bit of a frankenzyme, created by linking different enzymes together. "When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity," Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, told The Guardian. "This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it's also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab."

This new research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Combining enzymes could be the key to making various kinds of plastics and combined materials fully recyclable. "There's huge potential," said McGeehan. "We've got several hundred in the lab that we're currently sticking together."

For example, combining the plastic-eating enzymes with existing enzymes that break down natural fibers could allow fabrics made of mixed materials to be recycled, McGeehan told The Guardian. "Mixed fabrics [of polyester and cotton] are really tricky to recycle. We've been speaking to some of the big fashion companies that produce these textiles, because they're really struggling at the moment."

This newest research isn't the first to improve upon the plastic-eating bacteria discovery. In April, a French chemistry company called Carbios shared their own mutant enzyme that can degrade 90% of plastic bottles within 10 hours. However, that enzyme, which originally discovered in a pile of composting leaves, requires heating above 70 degrees Celsius (nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit), whereas this new super-enzyme works at room temperature.

Not that it's a cutthroat competition. We are talking about helping out the entire planet and saving life as we know it, after all. McGeehan suggested that the researchers work together with the private sector to get the enzymes working out in the real world. "If we can make better, faster enzymes by linking them together and provide them to companies like Carbios, and work in partnership, we could start doing this within the next year or two," McGeehan told The Guardian.

McGeehan did emphasize to CNN that the super-enzyme is "still way too slow" to be commercially viable at this point, but it is a huge step in the process. "We were actually quite surprised it worked so well," he told CNN.

Here's to science coming up with solutions to the problems human scientific advances have created, and here's to learning to live in better balance with nature in the process.

Health

A child’s mental health concerns shouldn’t be publicized no matter who their parents are

Even politicians' children deserve privacy during a mental health crisis.

A child's mental health concerns shouldn't be publicized.

Editor's Note: If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.


It's an unspoken rule that children of politicians should be off limits when it comes to public figure status. Kids deserve the ability to simply be kids without the media picking them apart. We saw this during Obama's presidency when people from both ends of the political spectrum come out to defend Malia and Sasha Obama's privacy and again when a reporter made a remark about Barron Trump.

This is even more important when we are talking about a child's mental health, so seeing detailed reports about Ted Cruz's 14-year-old child's private mental health crisis was offputting, to say it kindly. It feels icky for me to even put the senator's name in this article because it feels like adding to this child's exposure.

When a child is struggling with mental health concerns, the instinct should be to cocoon them in safety, not to highlight the details or speculate on the cause. Ever since the news broke about this child's mental health, social media has been abuzz, mostly attacking the parents and speculating if the child is a member of the LGBTQ community.

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Famous writers shared their book signing woes with a disheartened new author.

Putting creative work out into the world to be evaluated and judged is nerve-wracking enough as it is. Having to market your work, especially if you're not particularly extroverted or sales-minded, is even worse.

So when you're a newly published author holding a book signing and only two of the dozens of people who RSVP'd show up, it's disheartening if not devastating. No matter how much you tell yourself "people are just busy," it feels like a rejection of you and your work.

Debut novelist Chelsea Banning recently experienced this scenario firsthand, and her sharing it led to an amazing deluge of support and solidarity—not only from other aspiring authors, but from some of the top names in the writing business.

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This article originally appeared on 04.15.19


On May 28, 2014, 13-year-old Athena Orchard of Leicester, England, died of bone cancer. The disease began as a tumor in her head and eventually spread to her spine and left shoulder. After her passing, Athena's parents and six siblings were completely devastated. In the days following her death, her father, Dean, had the difficult task of going through her belongings. But the spirits of the entire Orchard family got a huge boost when he uncovered a secret message written by Athena on the backside of a full-length mirror.

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This article originally appeared on 01.22.19


The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn't have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women's rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn't something we'd choose—and we'd hope others wouldn't choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

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