Worms and Bacteria that eat Plastic

Disposable plastics are a major issue for the health of the planet. The problem is that plastic takes an incredibly long time to degrade and we keep producing more and more plastic. The plastic just keeps piling up. Unfortunately, very little of the plastic gets recycled and the plastic bottles that are recycled are often not made into new bottles but rather into clothes or bags.

The plastic just makes keeps adding to landfills and gets into the ocean. It kills animals that eat the plastic and this can have a really bad effect on the ecosystem in the long run. Unfortunately people also don’t seem to be trying too hard to minimize plastic consumption and so the market for disposable plastics is doing very well. Also, some disposable plastic materials are necessary for our modern society. This is really bad news for the planet and all life on it in the long run unless we can figure out a way to destroy the plastic.

It looks like nature already did the hardest part for us. Scientists have discovered that there are worms and bacteria that can actually eat plastic. Part of the reason why plastic takes so long to degrade is that it is such a new and unique material to the earth that scientists think that no bacteria or organism had evolved to break it down yet. Well it looks like those days are over.

In 2016 Japanese researchers said that a bacteria named Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 can break down polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester. This is one of the most used plastics in the world. They believe that the bacteria adapted to its environment and evolved to be able to eat plastic. Since then scientists isolated the enzyme that allows the bacteria to do this. They then tried experimenting with it to try and understand how the enzyme evolved and in doing so made the enzyme even better at breaking down plastic!

Scientists plan to try and use this enzyme to break down plastic and make it back into plastic again so that they do not have to keep making more new plastic. This enzyme could even be used to clean up the plastic that is lying around all over the world. Even better than this is that now scientists discovered a worm that can also eat plastic!

Wax moth larvae can actually eat plastic. Just like the accidental strengthening of the enzyme the bacteria uses to break down plastic, it was accidentally discovered that these worms can eat plastic. A scientist and beekeeper had removed a worm infestation in a beehive and placed them into a plastic bag. She tied the bag but when she came back into her house the bag had an opening and the worms had escaped!

In the lab, these worms were confirmed to be able to eat plastic. 100 worms can eat 92 milligrams of plastic in 12 hours. These two discoveries are great news in the battle against climate change and pollution. Nature has provided us with the tools to destroy the plastics around the world and to be able to reuse those plastics instead of making new ones. If a bacteria has evolved to eat plastic and a worm has been discovered to be able to eat plastic, there could be many other bacteria that have evolved or will evolve to eat plastic and there may be many other organisms that can eat it also. This definitely gives some hope for the future since our modern society in some cases cannot and in most cases will not do without the modern invention of disposable plastic.

The information in this article and more can be found at these links:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/24/plastic-munching-worms-could-help-wage-war-on-waste-galleria-mellonella

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientists-accidentally-create-mutant-enzyme-that-eats-plastic-bottles

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/10/could-a-new-plastic-eating-bacteria-help-combat-this-pollution-scourge

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/24/almost-no-plastic-bottles-get-recycled-into-new-bottles.html

The Future of Meat

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940-1945, once said :

“With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

That day is here. Companies in the United States and around the world are now in the process of creating real meat without the need to raise and slaughter an animal. Memphis Meats from San Francisco, JUST in Northern California, Mosa Meat in the Netherlands, Modern Meadows from Brooklyn, New York, Finless Foods also in Brooklyn, New York and Supermeat from Israel are all startup companies who have created what is called cultured meat in laboratories and are continuing to improve their products. Bill Gates, Richard Branson and agriculture companies like Tyson and Cargill have invested in this new technology. This new technology certainly will revolutionize animal agriculture. Before we get into the science of how cultured meat is produced let’s talk about the negatives of out current animal agricultural system.

The first issue with modern animal agriculture is that it is highly unethical in terms of the treatment of animals, one of which are pigs which are thought to be even more intelligent than dogs. We won’t get into the graphics but we are sure you’ve all seen some videos. It’s an animal holocaust.

The second issue is the amount of resources it consumes in order to produce the animal products purchased and eaten by consumers. Resources such as water, land, food, fuel, medicine and time are all used at absurd levels in order to produce animal products. This is a leading cause of climate change. De-forestation is often done in order to clear land to grow food for animals on farms to eat or to raise the animals. In addition lots of green house gases are released by the animals being raised for consumption. 1 pound of beef requires 38 pounds of food and 1,799 gallons of water. The land used to grow that food and the food and water used to feed the animals could be used to end world hunger.

The third major issue is health risks for people. The animals are crowded so close together that this creates a breeding ground for viruses. This is how the avian flu and swine flu broke out multiple times. The animals are also often very ill because of the conditions and so they are loaded up on antibiotics. Not only does this consume a huge amount of antibiotics that could be used for people and domestic animals, but this also causes the rapid evolution of deadly bacteria. Scientist are afraid that this could lead to incredibly strong bacterial illnesses in the near future that will be unable to be defeated by antibiotics.

These are major issues for our modern world. These will potentially be extinction level issues for the future if we continue animal agriculture in this way. This is because the human population is projected to rise to 9.6 billion people by 2050 and economies around the world are growing which leads to more middle class populations and higher levels of meat consumption. Our modern agricultural practices are not sustainable at our current population level so 9.6 billion people will be an even bigger horror show. There is no way our planet will be able to handle this. Highly unethical slaughter methods will continue, land will be destroyed, ecosystems will be destroyed, and viruses and bacteria will become too strong to be defeated with medicine. Massive extinction of many species will occur, green house gases will rise along with water levels and the human population will suffer greatly from natural disasters, droughts, famines and illnesses.

So yeah, we’re talking an apocalyptic scenario all because of food production. Well cultured meat can stop this. Before we explain how it will stop this, let’s talk about how cultured meat is produced.

The basic science of cultured meat is that there are cells in animal muscle tissue that can self renew. These cells are extracted from the animal and placed in controlled laboratory conditions. They are given the nutrients needed to replicate and grow into the particular muscle tissue that is needed. Eventually the cells grow to become whatever meat it was intended to be. It is called cultured meat because a culture is an artificial medium that provides nutrients for microbial organisms to reproduce. The cells are placed in a controlled environment and given nutrients to reproduce until they become meat. The companies working on cultured meat are also working on creating cultured dairy, sea food and eggs as well. Memphis Meats plans to have their products on the market in 3 years. Of course right now it is pretty expensive but as mass production gets underway the price will go down significantly.

Here is how this new science could help ward off that potential apocalypse we spoke about earlier. First off at a mass production level this new science would eliminate the need to raise and slaughter an animal for meat. Second, an incredible amount of land, food and water would be saved because you wouldn’t need to grow food to feed animals or raise animals. The meat production would be done in buildings. This also means no green house gases being released by farm animals. This would also save fuel because the buildings can be near by the locations in which the meat will be sold. Third, this also conserves anti-biotic usage and staves off the growth of viruses and bacteria into super bugs. The meat will also be much healthier because bacterial contamination would not occur in a clean controlled lab. Most bacterial contamination of foods comes from fecal contamination due to slaughter methods. This is also why cultured meat is sometimes called clean meat. The nutrient content could also be controlled. This would be able to be used to limit fats in the meat and fortify the meat with other essential nutrients people and domesticated animals may need. The prices may even get lower for animal products in the future if cultured meat, sea food, dairy and eggs becomes mass produced because it would take much less resources to create the animal products. Cultured animal products in combination with vertical farming of crops, spoken about in a previous article, could produce healthier food at a rate high enough to end world hunger without harming animals, the environment or people. Everybody wins.

Many people who have tried cultured meat products have said that it tastes just like meat. So yeah, clean cultured meat is coming to the market and it could save the world without making people give up consuming animal products. Let’s hope it does because 2050 doesn’t sound too pretty with 9.6 billion people if we still produce food the same way we do today.

The information here can be found at these links:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/winston-churchill-imagined-lab-grown-hamburger-180967349/

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/23/bill-gates-and-richard-branson-bet-on-lab-grown-meat-startup.html

Check out this video:

Friday The 13th

It’s Friday the 13th!…. Again! We all know how spooked out people get over this day, but why do so many people have superstitions about Friday the 13th?

We all know the many modern day movies surrounding terrible things that occur on a Friday the 13th. In our modern American culture and in many European cultures Friday the 13th is considered a day a dread. Because of this many people have superstitious stress over something bad that may happen on Friday the 13th and this causes self fulfilling prophecies in some cases. Business is often not as good and there are often more car accidents on Friday the 13th. There are probably many other negative occurrences that coincide with Friday the 13th. This may make it seem like there really is something to this superstitious number and day but the truth is that people who are superstitious about this day have more stress on this day. This probably makes them fearful of going out thus hindering business. They are also probably more preoccupied with fear and stress that their focus lacks in many other aspects causing car accidents and other possible negative events.

But who came up with this idea that Friday the 13th was bad luck? Was it the modern movies? Surely, modern movies surrounding this superstition made more people fearful of it but these movies did not invent this superstition. This is superstition that has been around for a while but its origins are mysterious.

The Friday the 13th superstition actually has no record before the 19th century. Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini is the first English writing to mention a Friday the 13th superstition. The 1907 book Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas W. Lawson may have also helped spread the superstition. However, was there a reason why these authors wrote about Friday the 13th being bad luck?

There are many hypothesis about the origin of the superstition of Friday the 13th. One is that it originated due to the Last Supper and the death of Christ. There were 13 people at the Last Supper and the 13th person, Judas, betrayed Jesus. Jesus was then crucified on what is now called Good Friday. Another hypothesis is that it originated when King Philip IV of France arrested many members of the Knights Templar on Friday October 13, 1307.

Regarding the bad luck of the number 13 specifically, there are many myths and fairy tales from various cultures that depict 13 as a bad luck number. One is the Norse myth of a dinner party in Valhalla in which Loki was the 13th guest who bought bad luck. This myth and other tales could have been adapting plot elements and this superstition that may have originated from the Last Supper. However, there seems to be superstition surrounding this number that predates Christianity. Zoroastrianism was an ancient religion predating even Judaism that believed that the 13 millennium would be bad luck. It is possible that there was some cultural association of bad luck with this number that led to many stories using 13 as a bad luck number. This may have led to books and movies using this same superstition in their plots. These books and movies made more people in modern day superstitious of this number.

Why did ancient cultures have a negative association with the number 13 though? We don’t know for sure but a good inference is that it was because 12 was so often thought of as a complete number and so 11 or 13 would seem incomplete and thus would have a negative connotation to it. So why isn’t Friday the 11th bad luck. Well maybe 13 was unlucky because that was the average time puberty hits. We know many ancient rituals and superstitions surrounded sexuality and Abrahamic religions often shunned sexuality. This combination may have made 13 associated with bad luck. This is plausible but then why Friday the 13th? Well we don’t know but it is certainly possible that 13 had superstitions surrounding it before Christianity but superstitious people learned about the Last Supper and Good Friday and made Friday the 13th superstitious.

There are other days of bad luck for other cultures though. In Spanish speaking countries and Greece Tuesday the 13th is bad luck not Friday the 13th. In Italy, Friday the 17th is bad luck. In some ancient cultures 13 was a lucky number. Clearly there is no objective bad luck number that exists. Different cultures for different reasons associated bad luck with some numbers and some days. Our modern American culture’s superstition about Friday the 13 likely has roots in cultures that associated 13 with bad luck before Christianity for reasons we can only hypothesize about. The Last Supper and Good Friday probably influenced the bad luck day to be Friday but we also don’t know this.

We don’t know exactly why 13 or Friday the 13th were originally thought to be unlucky. The best we have are good inferences. However, our modern knowledge of cultures and science can assure us there is nothing to be superstitious about. If we are less superstitious we will probably see less negative events going on on this day also.

 

 

Solving The Gun Nightmare

After years of mass shootings throughout the United States and relatively little changes to laws to mitigate such incidents from taking place, we are finally beginning to see some hope for progress that may save countless lives going into the future of our country. Unfortunately, many people needlessly suffered and died in order to push our politicians to take the matter more seriously. The latest horror story came out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. On February 14, 2018 Nikolas Cruz, a former student with a history of mental illness, used an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon to murder 17 people. 14 of those people were students and 3 were staff members. The students were 14 year old Alyssa Alhadeff, 14 year old Martin Duque Anguiano, 17 year old Nicholas Dworet, 14 year old Jaime Guttenberg, 14 year old Cara Loughran, 14 year old Gina Montalto, 17 year old Joaquin Oliver, 14 year old Alaina Petty, 18 year old Meadow Pollack, 17 year old Helena Ramsay, 14 year old Alex Schachter, 16 year old Carmen Schentrup, 15 year old Luke Hoyer and 15 year old Peter Wang. The staff members were 35 year old Scott Beigel, 37 year old Aaron Feis and 49 year old Chris Hixon.

These people innocently and needlessly suffered and lost their lives. Their parents, friends and family will never see them again. Their fellow schoolmates are forever traumatized by experiencing a massacre first hand. This is what happens when we as a society fail to protect each other and especially our children, whom look to us to protect them.

Many times in the past, gun violence resulted in deaths but no changes to laws to prevent such events from happening again. However, as alluded to earlier, there are signs of hope for change this time. Students around Florida have arranged rallies to demand change in gun laws to end the violence that was bought upon them. Students have marched to the capitol of Florida and even to the White House to demand change. They demand that this will be the last time such violence can be allowed to occur. This is unlike any response to gun violence that our country has ever seen and it is already showing signs that it will result in successfully changing gun laws and taking steps towards preventing these acts from happening in the future.

President Trump held a listening session on Wednesday where he met with family and friends of gun violence victims around the country to discuss ideas to stop school shootings. The President vowed to students at the meeting to have tougher background checks and mental health screenings for people trying to buy guns. He also would be open to banning bump stocks which allows semi-automatic weapons to act as automatic weapons. He is even considering arming teachers to be the first responders in the event of a school shooting.

These student are making a difference with their protesting. It is wonderful to see that they are influencing the President towards making it harder for people to buy semi-automatic and automatic weapons and taking measure to prevent future shootings like this from happening again. However, as many students have suggested, much more than what has been talked about needs to be done. Here are some ideas that if implemented may make a big difference in preventing future shootings from happening:

  1. Ban the legal selling of semi-automatic and automatic weapons. There is no need for them. These are weapons of war. The Second Amendment was made for civilians to be able to defend themselves. Weapons of war are not necessary for defense.
  2. Extreme vetting must be done for anyone who wants to purchase a legal gun.
  3. Law enforcement around the country must devote much more energy into breaking up the black market weapon business. This will prevent many criminals from getting guns illegally.
  4. Heighten security at schools. There should only be one entrance door. All other doors must be locked from the outside but can serve as emergency exits from the inside. There must be metal detectors and scanners when entering the school. There also must be cameras in the school, around the school and focused on all doors. Security must be watching these cameras at all times while one or two armed security guards trained to defend remain in front of the school entrance all day. One or two security guards should also keep watch and walk around the outside of the school throughout the day. The outside security should not be allowed to come into the school for any reason other than to defend against an attacker and the security guards walking around, guarding in front and watching the cameras must have the ability to wirelessly communicate. There needs to be trained security. Teachers are not police and should not be relied upon to do a police officers job. They do not have the proper training and cannot focus on teaching and potentially being a superhero at the same time. Such security as this can and should also be applied to all public buildings like theaters, museums and hospitals.
  5. All workplace environments including schools, hospitals, and businesses of all sorts must have mandatory training of all members in being able to detect people who may be suffering from a mental illness and may pose a threat to themselves or others. In schools, this includes making students aware of how to detect when someone might not be well and may be a threat also. We need to reach out as a society and provide help to those in need to avoid their suffering and to prevent the possibility of them doing something terrible. When someone suspects something may not be right, they must be trained to report it to the proper authority, be that a psychologist or whoever. Individuals can even reach out to help that person as well just by providing friendship.

These are just some ideas that can help prevent needless suffering and death. There are many more out there but we need to share them so that horrors like this recent school shooting never have to happen again.

Gun Debate Podcast

Today,

Richard and I talk about the gun debate that is occurring after the horrific events that happened in Flordia this past week. We look forward to hearing your feedback and will be continuing these podcasts every Wednesday.

Intro & Outro Music thanks to: https://www.bensound.com/

To Bag or Not To Bag?

Plastic bags are everywhere, literally. If you live in the city, they are almost like a new breed of animal that is exclusive to the city. Oh wait, we already have those, pidgeons. But really, plastic bags are at stores, on the street, in the “garbage”, flying around in the air, in your car, at your home, and you’re actually probably holding one right now as you rush around doing chores, in which case, I wonder why you are reading this if you are running around doing chores.

Plastic bags are a crazy invention of the modern age. It is amazing that high density polyethylene, the plastic used to make the common plastic bag, was only first created in 1953. In 1965 the common plastic bag was created, and in 1979 it was first introduced to America. Only 40 years?! It is crazy to think that a good portion of our parents grew up without this toxic death weapon. Say what? Yeah that’s right. Plastic bags are deadly. I mean, aside from being an actual choking hazard, plastic bags are one of the major everyday items that are destroying our planet.

The pollution of plastic in our oceans is having a detrimental effect on the environment. Many animals end up consuming plastic and this can choke them or block pathways in their bodies and eventually kill them. A good prption of these animals live in the ocean, and this is part of the reason why our ocean life is depleting so rapidly. On a mass scale this can destroy vast ecosystems as different species dwindle in number causing a chain reaction in the food chain. Speaking of the food chain, if animals eat other animals that have plastic in them, then they too consume plastic and succumb to the same fate as their food. This kind of makes plastic bags like the plague for wild animals, sea life in particular.

Another problem with plastic is that it doesn’t degarde very well, it can last 500 or more years. It just becomes smaller and smaller. It becomes what is called microplastics. These microplastics create toxic chemicals that can pollute the earth and human food also. So, if you think humans will be just fine, think again. We are all a part of this world and the plastic threat may not be at our door yet but it sure is coming down the block fast.

Climate Change will change our world forever, and it is growing in strength. Some damage is irreversible, but we can stop further harm. The planet is heating up and the past few years have been the hottest on record. There has never been a time on record that the planet had so many consecutive hottest year record years. For this reason some countries have implemented a tax on plastic bags, being that they are a major contributor to the plastic problems. Some have even banned single use plastic bags all together, which is the best solution to this problem.

15 countries in Africa have either banned it or placed a tax on it. China has banned plastic bags, France has and even California has banned single use plastic bags. It is the first state in the United States to do so.

It is encouraging to see the world is beginning to take some measures to fight pollution and climate change, but we cannot depend on every country to make the right decisions. We must be proactive citizens. We have a problem, and we need to help solve it for ourselves, future generations and all life on earth. Abstaining from plastic bags is just one of the very simple changes we can make in our daily lives that, at a large scale, can send a message that citizens no longer want to use products that harm the planet and so many species. This will cause production to halt and the environment will be greatly spared much more harm.

So, next time you go grocery shopping and that angry old lady is ready to send your bottle of pepsi home surrounded by a protection force of ten indestructable plastic bags, because you know they love to bag and bag and bag, tell her save her energy, because you got your own reusable shopping bags that won’t end up killing off whole ecosystems. She’ll look at you like you’re a damn hippy, but her grandkids will thank you.

Space X Launches Falcon Heavy with an Interesting Payload

Last week on February 6th, 2018 Space X launched the falcon heavy into space to orbit the sun. The mission was accomplished by shooting this three stage rocket from NASA’s space station in Florida. This launch was to test the power of the Falcon Heavy’s new booster that was only tested a few months ago. Space X along with Elon Musk, owner of Space X, were very concerned about the rocket being launched so early, but it all worked out for them.

The most insane part of this is that 2 of the 3 boosters landed back on earth successfully as shown in the picture above. The third booster lost control and landed into the ocean with a speed of over 30,000mph. That third booster was suppose to land on a barge in the ocean after breaking off from the rocket.

38583829295_581f34dd84_b.jpg

This rocket is planned to be used to transfer supplies into orbit or even to the moon which is the next destination. The rocket can carry a total payload of a little bit over 140,000lbs. The rockets were so powerful that the planned trajectory, to orbit the sun, changed and now it is headed to Mars!

The funniest part of this event is that Elon Musk put a roadster as the payload in the rocket! To add to the effect he put a dummy in a space suit in the driver seat. On the screen in the car is text saying “DON’T PANIC”. Hopefully life on mars will be able to take advantage of the car.

40143096241_11128929df_b.jpgSpace X has already lost video feed from the car itself due to the batteries in the camera’s dying, isn’t that ironic! To add to the humor the dummy had one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the outside, almost as if he was cruising down the highway.

Realistically, this is a major success for Space X as it continues to be funded by the government and by investors. The rocket only costs $90 million dollars to launch which may sound like a lot, but is only a small chunk of change for Elon Musk. Landing the boosters back on earth can help reduce the amount of metal being landed in the ocean as well allow for re-usability. This re-usability will allow the rocket to be launched more often than usual and in the long run allow us to reach mars! Space X and Elon Musk are looking forward to building the next rocket which will be name BFR, which stands for Big Falcon Rocket. This will hopefully allow us to travel further than we have ever flew before.