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Gizmorama - May 1, 2017

Good Morning,


Say goodbye to greenhouse gases, thanks to a new synthetic material used in artificial photosynthesis.

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

Until Next Time,
Erin


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* Artificial photosynthesis turns greenhouse gases into clean air *

Scientists have found a way to trigger artificial photosynthesis using a new synthetic material. The method could be used to simultaneously generate energy and convert greenhouse gases into clean air.

"This work is a breakthrough," Fernando Uribe-Romo, a research professor at the University of Central Florida, said in a news release. "Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gases."

Uribe-Romo and his colleagues created a new type of MOF material. MOF is short for metal-organic frameworks. The materials host a chemical reaction that converts CO2 into a variety of simple and safe organic compounds.

Scientists have used MOF materials as a medium for chemical reactions before, but have struggled to develop a material capable of absorbing enough energy from visible light to trigger a reaction.

Materials capable of absorbing energy from the visible range of natural light, from violet to red wavelengths, include platinum, rhenium and iridium. Unfortunately, these materials are rare and expensive.

Uribe-Robo created a new composite MOF material by incorporating light-absorbing molecules called N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates into titanium, a common nontoxic metal. Uribe-Robo designed the molecules to absorb blue light.

In lab tests, researchers put the material inside a chamber with CO2 and bathed it in artificial blue light. The light triggered the chemical reaction and converted the carbon dioxide into two simpler carbon compounds, formate and formamides -- both which can be used as solar fuel.

Researchers published their findings in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Uribe-Robo wants to tweak the technology to test whether other wavelengths of visible light can also trigger the artificial photosynthesis.

"The goal is to continue to fine-tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient," he said.



*-- Scientists find commercial caterpillar capable of eating, processing plastic --*

Scientists have discovered a caterpillar capable of biodegrading polyethylene, one of the toughest and most commonly used plastics.

The wax worm, the larval form of the greater wax moth, is already commercially bred as fishing bait. Now, scientists hope the caterpillar can be used to relieve the pressure on landfills already overflowing with plastic bags.

In the wild, the worm is a parasitic pest. Wax moths deposit their eggs inside bee hives. Once hatched, the worms subsist on beeswax.

Federica Bertocchini, an amateur beekeeper and researcher at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, in Spain, noticed the worms had eaten holes in a plastic bag he was using to house the caterpillars after removing the pests from one of his hives.

In followup tests with biochemists from the University of Cambridge, roughly 100 worms consumed 92 milligrams of plastic mass in 12 hours -- a rate several times faster than that of a recently discovered strain of plastic-eating bacteria.

"If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable," Cambridge researcher Paolo Bombelli said in a news release. "This discovery could be an important tool for helping to get rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in landfill sites and oceans."

Though further investigation is required, researchers hypothesize that the caterpillar's wax and plastic biodegration mechanisms are the same -- the same chemical bonds are being severed.

"Wax is a polymer, a sort of 'natural plastic,' and has a chemical structure not dissimilar to polyethylene," Bertocchini said.

Researchers conducted tests to ensure the worms aren't simply breaking the plastics down into tinier pieces, but are transforming the chemical structure. Their analysis showed the caterpillars are turning the polyethylene into ethylene glycol, un-bonded 'monomer' molecules.

"The caterpillars are not just eating the plastic without modifying its chemical make-up. We showed that the polymer chains in polyethylene plastic are actually broken by the wax worms," said Bombelli.

Bertocchini, Bombelli and their colleagues detailed their work in the journal Current Biology.

The next step in their research is to figure out what kind of enzyme or enzymes the caterpillar is producing to break down the plastic. The answer could offer a solution to world's trash problem.

***

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