Scientists: enzyme eats plastic like it's made of Pringles

More often than not, the solutions for slowing the roll of our planet into an untenable ball of environmental disasters is right under our noses—protect green spaces. End the use fossil fuels. Recycle, repair or up-cycle the living shit out of everything we own or consume.

Also, be certain to check in piles of dead leaves for scientific breakthroughs.

From The Guardian:

A mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours has been created by scientists.

The enzyme, originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, reduced the bottles to chemical building blocks that were then used to make high-quality new bottles. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.

The company behind the breakthrough, Carbios, said it was aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. It has partnered with major companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate development. Independent experts called the new enzyme a major advance.

Considering the fact that we've found plastic waste damn near everywhere we've gone looking for it, Carbios' breakthrough has the potential to become a huge deal in our fight to save our home.

While the enzyme only made its debut to the scientific community, this month, as a potential plastic-gobbling miracle, it was originally discovered back in 2012. Sometimes, it takes the scientific community a while to get traction. But, once they have their shit together (along with the support of our institutions, applicable laws and the cash they need in order to do their research) what can be achieved is, sometimes, astonishing. Read the rest

Scientists: Drug hippos are... good?

Cocaine, as they say, is one hell of a drug. In fact, it was recently shown in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science to have greatly helped the re-wilding a good chunk of Columbia.

How you might ask?

Pablo Escobar's hippos, which are still hanging around breeding in Columbia today, were bought with cash made from selling massive amounts of nose candy. Instead of simply shitting in the water and troubling anything that moves, they've been busy fulfilling the role of long-absent megafauna in Columbia's ecosystem.

From Gizmodo:

“While we found that some introduced herbivores are perfect ecological matches for extinct ones, in others cases the introduced species represents a mix of traits seen in extinct species,” study co-author John Rowan, a study co-author and biology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said in a statement.

Pablo’s hippos, for instance, are similar in diet and size to the now-extinct giant llamas that once roamed the area. They’re also similar in size and semiaquatic behavior to another extinct species, notoungulates, which have been gone for thousands of years. That allows them to fill two long-vacated roles in the Colombian ecosystem they were introduced to after Escobar died and they began to roam the countryside.

According to Gizmodo, it's not just hippos jazzing up local ecosystems where they don't belong. The study also looked at 72 other invasive species to see if their introduction to an ecosystem had been a boon or a blight. In 64% of the cases that the study examined, the introduced species showed the potential to fulfill the roles of long extinct animals in a given ecosystem that could have a effect on the ecosystem's overall health. Read the rest

A "Google Street View" for the natural sounds of remote Australia

The Australian Acoustic Observatory project, described by its creators as a kind of "Google Street View of sound," is a new acoustic sensor network of hundreds of microphones and digital audio recorders distributed across multiple remote ecosystems on the continent. The solar-powered system will record animal and natural sounds continuously for 5 years. According to lead researcher Paul Roe of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Ecoacoustics Research Group and colleagues, the observatory will enable scientists and the public to listen to "a galaxy of sounds — it is like the heartbeat of the environment." While scientists will use the data to better understand the ecosystems and how they are changing over time, I bet sound artists have a (ahem) field day with the recordings once the public can listen in. From ABC News:

It was hoped citizen scientists would embrace the hidden animal world that was being captured, along with students and artists.

"For example, we will have citizen science projects where we can kind of search for a particular animal within the soundscape. People can use it to explore the environment to understand what is happening, how does the sound change," he said...

Professor Roe said 400 sensors have been placed across 100 sites in seven distinct eco-regions covering desert, grassland, shrublands and temperate, subtropical and tropical forests.

It might be then that we get birds arriving because there has been some water and trees are flowering, or there might be frogs which are going to call, they are going to come out of the desert and call after rain.

Read the rest

The dangerous, exploitative, and dirty business of "healing" crystals

Not only is the purported "healing" power of crystals total bullshit, but most of these "magical" talismans come from mines rife with exploitation, danger, environmental ruin, and shady business practices. Good vibes, eh? Read the rest

The largest source of plastic in our fresh water is laundry lint

On average, you consume between 74,000 and 121,000 microscopic pieces of plastic every year. Probably much more. Where does it come from? Read the rest

Plastic bag and other human trash found at the bottom of Earth's deepest ocean trench

During the deepest human sea dive ever, 35,853 feet/10,928 meters down to the bottom of the western Pacific's Mariana Trench in a one-person submarine, underwater adventurer Victor Vescovo found what may be newly discovered species of marine life along with candy wrappers and a plastic bag. This is the third plastic bag that divers have found in the Mariana Trench, considered the deepest natural trench on Earth. From National Geographic:

A study released in October 2018 documented what is still the deepest known piece of plastic—a flimsy shopping bag—found at a depth of 36,000 feet inside the Mariana Trench....

Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take hundreds of years or more to break down once in the wild. The Mariana Trench has higher levels of overall pollution in certain regions than some of the most polluted rivers in China, according to a study in February 2017. The study's authors theorized that the chemical pollutants in the trench may have come in part from the breakdown of plastic in the water column.

Read the rest

Yellowstone grizzly bear hunt cancelled thanks to court ruling

In the midst of yet another shitty news cycle, it's nice to hear that great things can still happen.

Earlier this year, the state of Wyoming said "yeah" to allowing a maximum of 22 grizzly bears, once sheltered as a protected species, to be hunted. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said "nah" to hunters gearing up to shoot at grizzly bears that call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem home.

From Earther:

In his order, Christensen made clear that the case “is not about the ethics of hunting, and it is not about solving human- or livestock-grizzly conflicts as a practical philosophical manner.”

Instead, the case was about whether the decision to de-list this segment of the Lower 48 grizzly population was scientifically sound. (Grizzly bears as a whole still enjoy endangered species protections across the Lower 48.) Christensen felt that it wasn’t, writing that FWS “failed to consider how reduced protections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would impact the other grizzly populations.”

The ruling drew heavily on a case the federal agency lost last year, when its decision to de-list Western Great Lakes region gray wolves was vacated in court for failing to consider species-wide impacts.

In the United States, there's only around 1,800 grizzly bears roaming Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho and Montana. That's far from what I or any ecologist (of which I am not) would call a recovered species. Earther points out that while the Yellowstone grizzly population has rebounded in recent years, it's still isolated from other populations. Read the rest

A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

A research team from Imperial College London have published promising results of an experiment in which Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes -- responsible for the spread of malaria -- were genetically modified with a stable, gene-drive-based CRISPR modification that caused them to go extinct in the lab. Read the rest

Thanks to a Chinese and Korean fad, California's wild succulents are being poached and smuggled to Asia

Succulents are key to stabilizing the fragile coastal ecosystems of California; they're also extremely popular in China and South Korea, thanks to a fad that's sweeping Asia. Read the rest

The tiny fern that could take a big bite out of greenhouse gases

The little pink-edged ferns above are Azolla filiculoides, and they're smaller than a fingernail. Scientists just made it the first fern to get its genome sequenced because of its potential for fertilizing and even cooling the planet. Fifty million years ago, it was so abundant as ocean blooms that it helped cool the earth's atmosphere. Via Quartz:

This great Azolla boom was so successful that it lasted for 800,000 years, and is now known to paleobotanists as the “Azolla event.” Green plants suck up carbon dioxide; Azolla is particularly good at doing so. Over that period, researchers believe it sequestered about 10 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere, or well over 200 times the total amount of carbon dioxide humans currently release into the atmosphere every year.

During the Azolla boom, global temperatures plummeted, suggesting the diminutive fern “played a key role in transitioning Earth from a hot house to the cool place it is today,” Fay-Wei Li, a plant evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, said in a press release. As Yale’s E360 pointed out, scientists have wondered for years if Azolla could be harnessed to cool the planet again.

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This teeny tiny fern may hold a key to lowering global temperatures (Quartz) Read the rest

More mammals are becoming nocturnal so they can avoid humans

As Earth's human population expands, it's harder for other mammals to avoid people during the daytime. As a result, some mammals are becoming increasingly nocturnal. Nobody knows how that shift will affect individual species and even entire ecosystems. In a new paper in the journal Science, University of California, Berkeley wildlife ecologist Kaitlyn Gaynor and her colleagues examined data on how 62 species across the world spend their days and night. From Scientific American:

For example, leopards in the Central African nation of Gabon are 46 percent nocturnal in areas without bushmeat hunting, but 93 percent nocturnal where the practice is common. In Poland wild boars go from 48 percent nocturnal in natural forests to 90 percent nocturnal in urban areas. Even activities people consider relatively innocuous, such as hiking and wildlife viewing, strongly affected animals’ daily rhythms. Brown bears in Alaska live 33 percent of the day nocturnally when humans stay away, but that number goes up to 76 percent for bears exposed to wildlife-viewing tourism. “We think that we're leaving no trace often when we’re outdoors, but we can be having lasting consequences on animal behavior,” Gaynor says...

Perhaps even more alarming is the cascade of effects that could occur in the wider ecosystem as animals switch from day to night. “Patterns of competition and predator–prey interactions might change with the nocturnal behavioral changes,” Gaynor says. If one species—say a top predator—starts hunting at night and goes after different types of prey, it will likely have innumerable trickle-down consequences for everything along the food chain.

Read the rest

World's largest rodent extermination plan clears entire island of pests

South Georgia Island (population 20), due east off the tip of South America, had no rodents until 18th-century sailing ships accidentally introduced them. After seven years of work, the island is now rodent-free, allowing native birds to recover. Read the rest

To save the Earth, stack humans in green cities and leave the wilderness for other animals

Science fiction writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (previously) writes that we need to "empty half the Earth of its humans" to save the planet -- but not by the Green Left's usual (and potentially genocidal) tactic of reducing our population by 50%. Read the rest

Your body has been outsourced

What follows is the most mind-altering first chapter I've read in a long time, from biomechanist Katy Bowman’s latest book Movement Matters: Essays on movement science, movement ecology, and the nature of movement

These items —an electronic car unlocker and a tea bag— are convenient. But what I’ve realized is, when we say or think “convenience,” it’s not as much about saving time as it is about reducing movement. We can grasp sedentary behaviour as it related to exercise because it’s easy to see the difference between exercising one hour a day and not exercising one hour a day. My work, in the past, has been about challenging people to also be able to see the difference between exercising one hour a day and not exercising the other twenty-three. More subtle still—and what I’m asking you to do now—is to see how the choice to move is presented to you every moment of the day, but how most often we select the most sedentary choice without even realizing it. 

Our daily life is composed of a lot of seemingly innocuous ways we’ve outsourced our body’s work. One of the reasons I’ve begun focusing just as much on non-exercisey movements as I do on exercise-type movements is that I feel that the ten thousand outsourcing a day during the 23/24ths of your time hold the most potential for radical change. Be on the lookout for these things. To avoid the movements necessary to walk around to all the car doors, or just to avoid turning your wrist, or to avoid gathering your tea strainer and dumping the leaves and cleaning the strainer (in your dishwasher?),

Read the rest

Clear-cut tropical forest revitalized with industrial orange peel waste

In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs convinced a Costa Rican orange juice maker to to dump their waste peels in a clear-cut abandoned pasture that was in a national park. Twenty years later, the enriched soil nourishes tropical forest again, according to a new report. Read the rest

Giant high-tech rooftop greenhouse uses no soil

Lufa Farms is a commercial rooftop greenhouse built in 2010, one of three such gardens that help feed 2% of Montreal. Read the rest

(UPDATED!) Fish caught with very strange "tattoos"

SEE UPDATE BELOW

This mysteriously "tattooed" fish was caught near Lopez Jaena in the Misamis Occidental province of the Philippines. Some locals considered the fish a warning from the depths. They're actually right, as the likely non-magical explanation is that the fish was caught in a printed plastic bag floating in the ocean and the pattern transferred to the animal's scales over time. (Mysterious Universe)

UPDATE:

According to ABS-CBN, "Zosimo Tano who caught the fish, clarified... that the print on the fish's body came from his shirt, which he used to cover the fish."

(Thanks, Teddy-Bob_Silas!)

Read the rest

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