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Fungus Discovered in Rainforest Capable Of Eating Plastic Pollution

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One of the biggest problems facing the earth, plastic pollution, could soon meet its match if students at Yale University are able to breed a recently discovered plastic-eating fungus on a large scale.

Plastic pollution, exemplified by the giant floating island of trash the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean, is highly detrimental to the world’s ecosystem because it breaks down extremely slow. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, plastic doesn’t actually biodegrade:

“Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics.”

This presents humans with a challenge that must soon be met, considering much of our plastic trash ends up in the ocean where it breaks down into toxic microplastics, winding up in sea life. Not only is this dangerous to the sea life, but it’s also dangerous to people because we end up consuming these very fish which we are poisoning with our trash.

Many groups and organizations have been formed to clean up plastic that ends up washing ashore on our beaches, but the vast majority of plastic pollution ends up in the ocean. The planet has a growing addiction to cheap and industrious plastic, increasing in use exponentially every year with no end in sight.

This is why the discovery of plastic-eating fungus is so exciting. According to Inhabitat,

On an expedition to the rainforest of Ecuador, students from Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry discovered a previously unknown fungus that has a healthy appetite for polyurethane. According to Fast Company, the fungus is the first one that is known to survive on polyurethane alone, and it can do so in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, which suggests that it could be used at the bottom of landfills.

The discovery was published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Researchers were also able to isolate the enzyme responsible for decomposing the plastic.

It isn’t exactly clear how this fungus will be implemented in bioremediation, but one can picture floating plastic islands covered in mushrooms which will eat the entire trash pile then sink into the ocean.

It’s also important to wean ourselves away from petroleum based plastics because they require many resources just to manufacture, and pollution doesn’t start or end with the trash in the gutter. Many other sustainable options are available which could used instead, like hemp based or other plant based plastics.


Image credit: pmf.sc.gov.br

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Humans May Have Found a Way To Not Only Stop Aging – But To Reverse It as Well

Elias Marat

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Humans have long to reverse the effects of aging and prolong their lives. Whether this was due to a love of power, a love of wealth or simple human anxiety about the loss of youth, tales about immortality can be found in the folk tales of countless cultures.

And while aging is a wholly natural process, humans have always struggled to fight against it – be it through science and medicine or through the search for supposed cures such as the mythical Fountain of Youth.

And now, Israeli scientists have claimed to have figured out a solution not only to the process of biological aging – but to reverse it as well, simply by administering pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber.

In a study published Nov. 18 in the peer-reviewed journal Aging, the scientists claim to have showed how aging could be reversed in two key biological clocks in humans related to aging and illness by administering high-pressure oxygen in a pressurized chamber.

When humans grow olders and their cells divide, the sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes – known as telomeres – grow shorter with time. After the telomeres become too short, the cell is unable to replicate and eventually dies.

While telomere shortening can keep rogue cancerous cells from multiplying rapidly, this also results in genetic aging. As a result, geriatric cells that aren’t able to divide –  also known as senescent cells – accumulate throughout our lives, and are one of the key causes of aging.

In the clinical study, 35 people aged 64 or older were given hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) for 90 minutes a day, five times a week over the course of three months. Blood samples were collected from subjects prior to the treatment, after after the first and second months of the trial, and two weeks after the trial ended.

The patients didn’t have any lifestyle, diet, or medication changes during the study. However, their blood revealed major increases in the telomere length of their cells and a decrease in the number of their senescent cells.

For the researchers, the results of the study offered proof that the process of aging is reversible.

“Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation,” Prof. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University told the Jerusalem Post. “Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.”

The groundbreak study, he added, “gives hope and opens the door for a lot of young scientists to target aging as a reversible disease.”

The oxygen treatment also improved subjects’ attention, ability to process information, as well as subjects’ executive functions, the researchers said.

While attempts to halt aging through modifying one’s lifestyle or intensively exercising can provide “some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening”, the hyperbaric oxygen treatment is more effective, said Efrati’s partner at the Shamir Medical Center, Chief Medical Research Officer Amir Hadanny.

“In our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications,” Hadanny said.

The study could open the door to a radical new approach to medical problems and medicine in general.

“Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging,” Prof. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University told the Jerusalem Post. “We are not [just] slowing the decline – we are going backwards in time.”

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‘We Are Going To Have Famines of Biblical Proportions in 2021,’ UN Food Agency Warns

Elias Marat

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The head of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has delivered a stark message to the world: huge populations across the globe are facing severe “famines of biblical proportions” in the near future due to the coronavirus pandemic.

WFP head David Beasley has warned for the past several months that due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and accompanying lockdowns, nations in the developing world are faced with devastating famine and mass starvation unless action is finally taken.

However, with countries in the developed Global North facing their own budget crises and sharp economic downturns due to the ongoing health emergency, funding for the WFP that was previously available to help alleviate hunger and avert global famine won’t be available in 2021.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Beasley noted that his agency’s staffers regularly risk their lives feeding millions of hungry people in refugee camps, conflict zones, and the sites of natural disasters, but the current global crisis makes it important for him  to send “a message to the world that it’s getting worse out there … (and) that our hardest work is yet to come.”

In April, Beasley delivered a similarly urgent message to the U.N. Security Council, where he remarked that despite the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic, the world also stood  “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could see “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within months if critical action wasn’t taken.

And with the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 being awarded to the World Food Program last month for its vital work providing alleviating mass hunger and boosting food security in conflict zones, Beasley has been struggling to use the win to break through the news cycle and remind people of “the travesty that we’re facing around the world.”

“We were able to avert [famine] in 2020,” Beasley said, adding that the WFP needs further funding or “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.” 

The agency is currently hoping that it can get an additional $15 billion for the next year to deal with the growing scope of the crisis.

“If I could get that coupled with our normal money, then we avert famine around the world,” he said. 

World leaders must be prepared for the looming disaster as well as the critical role the WFP plays. As the organization says: “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”

In April, Beasley warned that about 135 million people faced “crisis levels of hunger or worse” in 2020 and that the number could rise by 130 million may be pushed to the brink of starvation by next year. However, on Wednesday he told AP that the number of people facing severe, crisis-level hunger had already risen to 270 million.

He added that three dozen countries could experience critical levels of hunger or famine if the WFP isn’t given the funding it requires.

According to a joint analysis by WFP and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, these countries include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somali, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Yemen.

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Researchers: Microbots Will Soon Enter Human Colons to Deliver Medical Payloads

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Calling it “rough terrain,” a team of researchers at Purdue University is exploring the insides of a living colon like never before, using microscopic robots the width of a few follicles of hair. Perhaps most incredibly, the anal bots require no batteries and are powered via an external electromagnetic field.

Scientists have long believed the use of microbots (and perhaps someday even nanotechnology) inside the human body could bring about a revolution in medical diagnostic abilities and drug delivery. Mechanical engineers at Purdue believe they have passed a critical first test in this journey by creating tiny robots that are controlled remotely and can efficiently deliver a payload without inflaming any tissue reactions in the notoriously sensitive colonic region.

Biomeedical engineer Luis Solorio described one of the challenges the team faced:

“Moving a robot around the colon is like using the people-walker at an airport to get to a terminal faster. Not only is the floor moving, but also the people around you. In the colon, you have all these fluids and materials that are following along the path, but the robot is moving in the opposite direction. It’s just not an easy voyage.”

Mechanical engineer David Cappelleri, also from Purdue, says the tiny robot is controlled magnetically while being monitored through ultrasound imaging.

“When we apply a rotating external magnetic field to these robots, they rotate just like a car tire would to go over rough terrain. The magnetic field also safely penetrates different types of mediums, which is important for using these robots in the human body.”

So far, the team has experimented only on live anesthetized mice and pig colons. Scaling up could be a challenge, says associate professor Craig Goergen, who points out that while the colon is a good entry point for this type of microscopic robotic research, the terrain can present some tough sledding.

“Moving up to large animals or humans may require dozens of robots, but that also means you can target multiple sites with multiple drug payloads.”

As outlined in the team’s paper, which was published in Micromachines, tests on payload delivery involved the microbots being marked with fluorescein dye in a saline vial; they imitated drug delivery mechanisms by steadily dispatching the dye over a period of time. These tests were conducted outside of the mice and pig colons.

The researchers say the tiny robots are expelled from the body via regular waste elimination. While the research is promising, scientists say coordinating multiple microbots for use inside a human body is still years off. However, the implications for such a procedure are huge.

“From a diagnostic perspective, these microrobots might prevent the need for minimally invasive colonoscopies by helping to collect tissue,” adds Goergen. “Or they could deliver payloads without having to do the prep work that’s needed for traditional colonoscopies.”

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