Breakdown Plastic Using Digestive Enzymes


Recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics is difficult as the hard material is tough to breakdown. For years there’s been research into using bacteria to eat the plastic to help with getting the plastic to reusable state. This year a bacterial enzyme called “PETase” has been found to be highly effective at breaking down this hardened plastic. The enzyme itself comes from a bacteria that was found within a plastic recycling plant (nature always finds a way) which was subsequently modified to be more efficient. This discovery may lead to a healthier use of plastic, but for now the best thing you can do is buy less plastic objects.

They compared the DNA sequence of the PETase gene with that of cutinases from thousands of bacterial species, looking for differences. They then created new versions of PETase, each with one or more of its amino-acid building blocks changed to resemble those of ancestral cutinases.

As many of the differences between PETase and cutinases were, presumably, what allowed PETase to do its job, they expected these new enzymes to digest the plastic less efficiently. To their surprise, however, one of the engineered enzymes (with two amino acids mutated to be more cutinase-like) was able to digest PET about 20% faster than the natural one. That is a modest increase, but one that came about by accident rather than design. This, Dr McGeehan argues, shows there is plenty of scope for further improvement.

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America Might Find Salvation in Satire


2016 witnessed the election of Donald Trump thanks in a large part to Russian meddling in the American democratic process. One of the most effective things that the Russians did was lie and spread contradictory information to make it hard for people to discern reality. Trump’s marketing skills made use of these Russian efforts to convince people to vote for him (by a very small margin and still lost the popular vote). How do we get out from the propaganda launched by Russia, Trump, and others?

The answer might just be late night comedians. Yes, a country run by a celebrity famous for being born rich will be saved by other rich celebrities. At the very least it’ll be great to see elevated discourse!

This is all to show that there is now proof that the mainstreaming of lies in the Trump era is indeed rotting our brains. It was first thought that one way to prevent the spread of false information would be to flag it by third-party fact checking, but the study cited above showed that that effort did not sufficiently help.

And that’s where the comedians come in. Thus far there have been no studies that have compared cognitive processing of satire with cognitive processing of falsehoods. But there is significant research to show that it may well be true that the best cognitive defense against Trump era falsehoods is satirical comedy. We know, for instance, that those who consume sarcasm are smarter, more creative and better at reading context. All are useful tools to process lies.

What is most interesting is that processing falsehoods and processing certain types of satire appears to follow a very similar cognitive path. In both cases, the brain has to be able to distinguish between what is said and what is true. And in both cases the brain has to reconcile ambiguity, incongruence and the misuse of words. It further has to process tone, context and body language to infer meaning.

We knew back when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on Comedy Central that their viewers were among the most informed on issues of any group consuming news. But now the role of satire in informing the public may be even more important — satirists may be the one thing that is keeping analytical thinkers engaged.

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Shipping Industry Finally Delivers on Climate Change

ocean shore

When climate conferences occur and parties sign on to legal agreements like the Paris Agreement some industries are excluded. Historically aviation and shipping have been left out from many climate change agreements which has resulted in both industries being behind the times, inefficient, and down right bad for the planet. Already, climate change is harming coastal nations and these coastal nations usually favour shipping. The impact of increasing water levels, storm surges, and more has led to those shipping-friendly nations to better regulate international shipping practices.

The result is a deal that shipping industry will finally address their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing their emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

Mr Paul added: “This is history in the making… if a country like the Marshall Islands, a country that is very vulnerable to climate change, and particularly depends on international shipping, can endorse this deal, there is no credible excuse for anybody else to hold back.”

The UK’s shipping minister, Nusrat Ghani, described the agreement as ” a watershed moment with the industry showing it is willing to play its part in protecting the planet”.

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Non-Profit Create $300 Hep C Cure, For-Profit Cure is $84,000


A for-profit pharmaceutical company sells a hepatitis C cure for $84,000 in the United States, which means that the average person cannot afford it and international the cost of the treatment is out of reach. Globally hepatitis C causes 400,000 deaths a year and affects 71 million people. Pharmaceutical companies claim the high price of their drugs is due to research and development (they spend more on advertising than research), yet non-profits can do similar research for a lot cheaper. Maybe we should only buy medical drugs from non-profits.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit organisation, is working with the Egyptian drugmaker Pharco Pharmaceuticals to bring a combination treatment of two hepatitis C tablets, ravidasvir (a new drug)­ and sofosbuvir, to countries that cannot afford to pay the high prices charged by US companies Gilead and AbbVie. This is taking longer than expected but has moved a big step closer with the latest results.

The medicine has also been tested on 300 patients in Egypt, who have different genetic characteristics, with a 100% cure rate. Further studies are being carried out in South Africa and Ukraine to cover all six genotypes of the disease.

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Productive Companies Include Workers on Their Board


Since the late 1970s (coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism) wages have stagnated while executive pay keeps rising. This has led to inequality being one of the largest issues facing companies and countries in the 21st century. Accordingly, people sick of neoliberalism have been looking into ways to address inequality and the subsequent economic stagnation. One solution is to have workers sit on the board of their employer. This results in better treatment of the workforce while providing more opportunity for growth in efficiencies within the company.

Research has found that the setup reduces worker turnover, boosts salaries and productivity, and supports income equity. Shareholder returns do suffer slightly, but researchers largely agree that tilting the flow of revenue back toward workers is a good thing.

It stands to reason that the concept holds a great deal of sway over the American public. The gulf between CEO and shareholder earnings and that of employees is often as extreme as 25 to one. Wages for regular workers have held largely stagnant over the last three decades, as executive salaries have ballooned. Bringing actual employees to the table where these decisions are made could serve to flatten the cliff between management and workers.

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