Whether we like it or not, our society has become completely reliant on plastic. From food preservation to water transportation, computer technology to healthcare and medicine, plastic can be found in nearly every facet of the human experience.
But as we well know, plastic is a double-edged sword, with massive amounts of plastic waste not only piling up in landfills, but floating in the most remote depths of our oceans and water supplies. And despite our knowledge of plastic’s harmful effects on the environment, we’ve become so reliant on plastic that there seems to be no end in sight. In fact, plastic production is growing on a yearly basis–and posing a potentially mortal threat to us all.
However, a newly-discovered type of mushroom could not only play a crucial role in slashing plastic pollution, but could have myriad other uses in addressing the environmental crises the planet faces.
Discovered in 2012 by Yale University students, Pestalotiopsis microspora is a rare species of mushroom from the Amazon rainforest that’s capable of subsisting on a diet of pure plastic, or more accurately, the main ingredient in plastic–polyurethane–before converting the human-made ingredient into purely organic matter.
And not only can Pestalotiopsis microspora live off of our plastic waste, it can also live without oxygen–meaning that the rare breed of mushroom would make an ideal agent for landfill clean-up, literally from the bottom-up.
While the idea sounds fantastic, some scientists have expressed hope that the plastic-consuming fungi can form the basis of the community waste treatment centers of the future–replacing our current practice of dumping our trash into centralized, massive landfills with small, mushroom-centered community composting centers or even home recycling kits, according to Epoch Times.
And as it turns out, Pestalotiopsis microspora isn’t alone in the world of plastic-eating mushrooms–and some of its plastic-consuming kin are event perfectly safe for us humans to consume.
In a study led by Katharina Unger for Utrecht University in the Netherlands, oyster mushrooms and other types of mushrooms were placed in agar cups with plastic waste and held in a climate-controlled dome-shaped environment. After about a month, the roots of the mushroom consumed and transformed the plastic into an edible biomass–or food–that was completely free of any toxicity from the polyurethane.
Not only was the finished product completely free of plastic, but they also had an appealing taste, according to Unger, who described them as “sweet with the smell of anise or licorice.”
Yes, that’s right: for the very first time in history, plastic trash could be a part of our food chain–in a deliberate and surprisingly healthy way. Indeed, such a discovery–if refined–could be a part of a novel solution to food scarcity in a world brimming-over with plastic waste yet scarce on food for hundreds of millions of people.
“Our research partner [Utrecht University] expects that the digestion will go much quicker once processes are fully researched and optimized,” Unger told Dezeen magazine, adding that her team “imagined it as being used with a community or small farm setting.”
The benefits of plastic-eating mushrooms seem limitless. At the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 event in Kew Gardens, London, fungi that process polyurethane were also found to be suitable as “mushroom bricks,” or a durable and sustainable building material that could be suitable for building homes.
The management and elimination of plastic waste is among the greatest challenges we face in saving our environment. But if the natural rate of decomposition can be reduced from 400 years to a mere few months, then these fungi could soon be taking over the world.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
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South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.