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Gizmorama - March 16, 2016

Good Morning,

Worried about plastic polluting the planet? Well, researchers have discovered a new bacteria that has an appetite for plastic. That's a "win-win" in my book.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Newfound bacteria can eat plastic --*

SAKAI, Japan - Researchers in Japan have discovered a new species of bacteria that can eat a common type of plastic. The bacteria species is Ideonella sakaiensis and the plastic is PET or polyethylene terephthalate.

Scientists found the bacteria growing on piles of plastic debris in the Japanese city of Sakai. PET is found in everything from plastic bottles and polyester clothing to food packaging and thermal insulation.

Plastics feature long molecule chains called polymers, which most organisms can't break down. Lab tests show the newfound bacteria use two enzymes to dice up the polymers before they're consumed. Inside the bacteria's cells, PET is further broken down and its carbon and energy is used to build more cells.

"It's the most unique thing. This bacterium can degrade PET and then make their body from PET," lead researcher Shosuke Yoshida, a microbiologist at Kyoto University, told NPR.

The work of Yoshida and his colleagues was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Researchers say the bacteria could break down a thin film of PET is a few weeks. It sounds like a boon for a world seemingly drowning in plastic, but most agree the bacteria is unlikely to put a dent in pollution. It eats too slowly, and its plastic consumption gives off the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

"When I think it through, I don't really know where it gets us," Tracy Mincer, a plastic pollution expert and researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't see how microbes degrading plastics is any better than putting plastic bottles in a recycling bin so they can be melted down to make new ones."

*-- Scientists developing durable ice repellant for commercial use --*

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Researchers have developed a spray-on coating capable of making car windshields, airplanes and other objects ice-proof.

A team of scientists from the University of Michigan announced the new spray-on coating method Friday, suggesting it may save scores of equipment from oil rigs to household freezers.

"Researchers had been trying for years to dial down ice adhesion strength with chemistry, making more and more water-repellent surfaces," Kevin Golovin, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, said in a statement. "We've discovered a new knob to turn, using physics to change the mechanics of how ice breaks free from a surface."

The ice repellant is a spray-on, thin, clear and slightly rubbery substance that causes ice to easily slide off surfaces. The new substance is explained in a study published in the journal Science Advances.

Researchers found water-repellent substances weren't as effective in repelling ice, but soon found rubbery surfaces do a better job -- even if they didn't repel water.

"Nobody had explored the idea that rubberiness can reduce ice adhesion," study lead Anish Tuteja said. "Ice is frozen water, so people assumed that ice-repelling surfaces had to also repel water. That was very limiting."

The new method is more durable than previously-established ice repellants, which are said to be less effective. Scientists said the new coating was able to stand up against various lab tests including peel tests, corrosion tests and exposure to high temperatures.

The team has already developed an array of variations of the new coating to meet the needs of various industries from commercial food to aerospace.

"I think the first commercial application will be in linings for commercial frozen food packaging, where sticking is often a problem. We'll probably see that within the next year," Tuteja said. "Using this technology in places like cars and airplanes will be very complex because of the stringent durability and safety requirements, but we're working on it."


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