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Limitless Fusion Power Using Plasma Guns!!!

Generating endless energy with zero emissions by just slamming hydrogen atoms together has been somewhat of a pipe dream for decades. Building a fusion reactor isn't that hard, all things considered. But building a useful one is a different matter. Now, scientists may be getting a tiny step closer to feasible fusion power, thanks to a futuristic experiment and dozens of plasma guns. 

Eighteen of 36 plasma guns are in place on the machine that could make fusion power a reality. Those guns are the key components of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX), which uses a new approach to the problem. PLX, if it works, will combine two existing methods of slamming single-proton hydrogen atoms together to form two-proton helium atoms. That process generates enormous amounts of energy per speck of fuel, much more than splitting heavy atoms (fission) does. The hope is that the method pioneered in PLX will teach scientists how to create that energy efficiently enough to be worthwhile for real-world use.
The promise of fusion is that it produces tons of energy. Every time two hydrogen atoms merge into helium, a small portion of their matter converts into a whole lot of energy. The problem of fusion is that no one's figured out how to generate that energy in a useful way.

The principles are simple enough, but the execution is the challenge. Right now, there are plenty of hydrogen-fusion bombs in the world that can release all their energy in a flash and destroy themselves (and everything else around for miles). The occasional kid even manages to build a tiny, inefficient fusion reactor in their playroom. But existing fusion reactors suck up more energy than they create. No one's yet managed to create a controlled, sustained fusion reaction that spits out more energy than gets consumed by the machine creating and containing the reaction.

The first of the two methods PLX combines is called magnetic confinement. This is what's used in fusion reactors called tokamaks, which use powerful magnets to suspend the superheated, ultradense plasma of fusing atoms inside the machine so it keeps fusing and doesn't escape. The biggest of these is ITER, a 25,000-ton (23,000 metric tons) machine in France. But that project has faced delays and cost overruns, and even optimistic projections suggest it won't be complete until the 2050s.

The second approach is called inertial confinement. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, another Department of Energy facility, has a machine called the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that is taking this route to fusion. The NIF is basically a very big system for firing super-powerful lasers at tiny fuel cells containing hydrogen. When the lasers hit the fuel, the hydrogen heats up and trapped within the fuel cell fuses. The NIF is operational, but it doesn't generate more energy than it uses.

PLX, according to a statement from the American Physical Society (APS), is a little different than either of those two. It uses magnets to contain its hydrogen, like a tokamak. But that hydrogen is brought to fusion temperatures and pressures by hot jets of plasma shooting out of the guns arrayed around the device's spherical chamber, employing the guns instead of lasers like those used at NIF.

The physicists leading the PLX project have done some early experiments using the 18 guns already installed, according to APS. Those experiments have offered researchers early data on how the plasma jets behave when they collide inside the machine and researchers presented that data on Oct. 21 at the Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That data is important, the researchers said, because there are contradictory theoretical models of exactly how plasma behaves when it collides in these sorts of collisions.

Los Alamos said that the team hopes to install the remaining 18 guns in early 2020 and conduct experiments using the full 36-plasma-gun battery by the end of that year.

10 Interesting Facts About Earth

Alien worlds may be all the rage, with their mystique and promise, but the orb we call home, planet Earth, has all the makings for a jaw-dropping blockbuster movie: from the drama of explosive volcanoes, past meteor crashes and catastrophic collisions between rocky plates to the seeming fantasy of the ocean's deep abysses swirling with odd life and tales of the coldest, hottest, deepest, highest and all-out extreme spots.

Planet Earth. The shiny blue marble that has fascinated humanity since they first began to walk across its surface. And why shouldn’t it fascinate us? In addition to being our home, it remains the only planet we know of where life thrives.  Over the course of the past few centuries, we have learned much about Earth, which has only deepened our fascination with it.

But how much does the average person really know about the planet Earth? You have lived on Planet Earth all of your life, but how much do you really know about the ground underneath your feet? Did you know Earth is not actually a sphere? That we are rocketing around the sun at 67,000 mph? That the majority of Earth's freshwater is locked up in Antarctica?

You probably have lots of interesting facts rattling around in your brain, but here are 10 more interesting facts about Earth that you may or may not know.

1. Plate Tectonics Keep the Planet Comfortable:

Earth is the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics. Basically, the outer crust of the Earth is broken up into regions known as tectonic plates. These are floating on top of the magma interior of the Earth and can move against one another. When two plates collide, one plate will subduct (go underneath another), and where they pull apart, they will allow a fresh crust to form.

This process is very important and for a number of reasons. Not only does it lead to tectonic resurfacing and geological activity (i.e. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation), it is also intrinsic to the carbon cycle. When microscopic plants in the ocean die, they fall to the bottom of the ocean.

Over long periods of time, the remnants of this life, rich in carbon, are carried back into the interior of the Earth and recycled. This pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, which makes sure we don’t suffer a runaway greenhouse effect, which is what happened on Venus. Without the action of plate tectonics, there would be no way to recycle this carbon, and the Earth would become an overheated, hellish place.

2. Earth is Almost a Sphere:

Many people tend to think that the Earth is a sphere. In fact, between the 6th century BCE and the modern era, this remained the scientific consensus. But thanks to modern astronomy and space travel, scientists have since come to understand that the Earth is actually shaped like a flattened sphere aka an oblate spheroid.

This shape is similar to a sphere, but where the poles are flattened and the equator bulges. In the case of the Earth, this bulge is due to our planet’s rotation. This means that the measurement from pole to pole is about 43 km less than the diameter of Earth across the equator. Even though the tallest mountain on Earth is Mount Everest, the feature that’s furthest from the centre of the Earth is actually Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.

3. Earth is Mostly Iron, Oxygen and Silicon:

If you could separate the Earth out into piles of material, you would get 32.1 % iron, 30.1% oxygen, 15.1% silicon, and 13.9% magnesium. Of course, most of this iron is actually located at the core of the Earth. If you could actually get down and sample the core, it would be 88% iron. And if you sampled the Earth’s crust, you’d find that 47% of it is oxygen.

4. 70% of the Earth’s Surface is Covered in Water:

When astronauts first went into space, they looked back at the Earth with human eyes for the first time. Based on their observations, the Earth acquired the nickname the Blue Planet. And it’s no surprise, seeing as how 70% of our planet is covered with oceans. The remaining 30% is the solid crust that is located above sea level, hence it is called the “continental crust”.

5. The Earth’s Atmosphere Extends to a Distance of 10,000 km:

Earth’s atmosphere is thickest within the first 50 km from the surface or so, but it actually reaches out to about 10,000 km into space. It is made up of five main layers – the Troposphere, the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, the Thermosphere and the Exosphere. As a rule, air pressure and density decrease the higher one goes into the atmosphere and the farther one is from the surface.

The bulk of the Earth’s atmosphere is down near the Earth itself. In fact, 75% of the Earth’s atmosphere is contained within the first 11 km above the planet’s surface. However, the outermost layer (the Exosphere) is the largest, extending from the exobase – located at the top of the thermosphere at an altitude of about 700 km above sea level – to about 10,000 km. The exosphere merges with the emptiness of outer space, where there is no atmosphere.

The exosphere is mainly composed of extremely low densities of hydrogen, helium and several heavier molecules – including nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. The atoms and molecules are so far apart that the exosphere no longer behaves like a gas and the particles constantly escape into space. These free-moving particles follow ballistic trajectories and may migrate in and out of the magnetosphere or with the solar wind.

6. The Earth’s Molten Iron Core Creates a Magnetic Field:

The Earth is like a great big magnet, with poles at the top and bottom near to the actual geographic poles. The magnetic field it creates extends thousands of kilometres out from the surface of the Earth – forming a region called the Magnetosphere. Scientists think that this magnetic field is generated by the molten outer core of the Earth, where heat creates convection motions of conducting materials to generate electric currents.

Be grateful for the magnetosphere. Without it, particles from the Sun’s solar wind would hit the Earth directly, exposing the surface of the planet to significant amounts of radiation. Instead, the magnetosphere channels the solar wind around the Earth, protecting us from harm. Scientists have also theorized that Mars’ thin atmosphere is due to it having a weak magnetosphere compared to Earth’s, which allowed solar wind to slowly strip it away.

7. Earth Doesn’t Take 24 Hours to Rotate on its Axis:

It actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds for the Earth to rotate once completely on its axis, which astronomers refer to as a Sidereal Day. Now wait a second, doesn’t that mean that a day is 4 minutes shorter than we think it is? You’d think that this time would add up, day by day, and within a few months, day would be night, and night would be day.

But remember that the Earth orbits around the Sun. Every day, the Sun moves compared to the background stars by about 1° – about the size of the Moon in the sky. And so, if you add up that little motion from the Sun that we see because the Earth is orbiting around it, as well as the rotation on its axis, you get a total of 24 hours.

This is what is known as a Solar Day, which – contrary to a Sidereal Day – is the amount of time it takes the Sun to return to the same place in the sky. Knowing the difference between the two is to know the difference between how long it takes the stars to show up in the same spot in the sky and it takes for the sun to rise and set once.

8. A year on Earth isn’t 365 days:

It’s actually 365.2564 days. It’s this extra .2564 days that creates the need for a Leap Year once ever four years. That’s why we tack on an extra day in February every four years – 2008, 2012, 2016 etc. The exceptions to this rule is if the year in question is divisible by 100 (1900, 2100, etc) unless it is divisible by 400 (1600, 2000, etc).

9. Earth has 1 Moon and 2 Co-Orbital Satellites:

As you are probably aware, Earth has 1 moon (aka. The Moon). Plenty is known about this body and we have written many articles about it, so we won’t go into much detail there. But did you know there are 2 additional asteroids locked into a co-orbital orbit with Earth? They’re called 3753 Cruithne and 2002 AA29, which are part of a larger population of asteroids known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

The asteroid known as 3753 Cruithne measures 5 km across, and is sometimes called “Earth’s second moon”. It doesn’t actually orbit the Earth but has a synchronized orbit with our home planet. It also has an orbit that makes it look like it’s following the Earth in orbit, but it’s actually following its own, distinct path around the Sun.

Meanwhile, 2002 AA29 is only 60 meters across and makes a horseshoe orbit around the Earth that brings it close to the planet every 95 years. In about 600 years, it will appear to circle Earth in a quasi-satellite orbit. Scientists have suggested that it might make a good target for a space exploration mission.

10. Earth is the Only Planet Known to Have Life:

We’ve discovered past evidence of water and organic molecules on Mars and the building blocks of life on Saturn’s moon Titan. We can see amino acids in nebulae in deep space. And scientists have speculated about the possible existence of life beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan. But Earth is the only place life has actually been discovered.

But if there is life on other planets, scientists are building the experiments that will help find it. For instance, NASA just announced the creation of the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), which will spend the coming years going through the data sent back by the Kepler space telescope (and other missions that have yet to be launched) for signs of life on extra-solar planets.

Giant radio dishes are currently scanning distant stars, listening for the characteristic signals of intelligent life reaching out across interstellar space. And newer space telescopes, such as NASA’s James Webb Telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the European Space Agency’s Darwin mission might just be powerful enough to sense the presence of life on other worlds.

But for now, Earth remains the only place we know of where there’s life. Now that is an interesting fact!

What Is A Sea Cucumber? Why Sea Cucumbers Are So Expensive ? Sea Cucumbers Are In Danger!

Sea cucumbers are marine invertebrates that live on the seafloor. They are named for their unusual oblong shape that resembles a fat cucumber. Although people occasionally eat sea cucumbers, these chubby, worm-like sea creatures aren't related to their namesake fruit and they wouldn't make a very appetizing salad topping if you were expecting a crunchy, refreshing bite. But Sea cucumbers cost over $3,000 a kilo, where Cucumbers usually cost under $3 a kilo. In fact, they are so valuable people will risk their lives to get ahold of one. They might not look it, but sea cucumbers are pretty special creatures.

There are about 1,250 species of sea cucumber, all of which belong to the taxonomic class Holothuroidea. This class falls under the Echinodermata phylum, which also includes many other well-known marine invertebrates, such as sea stars, sea urchins and sand dollars.

Sea cucumbers range in size from about three-quarters of an inch (1.9 centimetres) to more than 6 feet long (1.8 meters) and live throughout the world's oceans, from nearshore shallow waters to the ocean's deepest trenches. No matter the depth, their main residence is on the ocean floor, often partially buried in the sand.

Sea cucumbers, like all other echinoderms, exhibit radial symmetry. But instead of having five arms arranged in a circle like sea stars or sand dollars, sea cucumbers have five rows of tiny feet that run lengthwise down their bodies, from mouth to anus. Their tube-shaped feet serve mainly to anchor the limbless creatures to the seafloor. Sea cucumbers move across the seafloor by changing the water pressure in their feet; they increase the amount of water in their feet to stretch them out and release the water to contract them.

As the creatures slowly meander about, they use the extra 20 to 30 little tube feet around their mouths to shovel everything in, including sand. They feed primarily on tiny pieces of algae and marine creatures, which get broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, similar to how earthworms break down organic matter in gardens. The sand that the sea cucumbers ingest passes straight through their system and comes out the other end in the form of a sandy poop log.

Along with the sand, sea cucumbers excrete byproducts that benefit ocean ecosystems, particularly coral reefs. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that sea cucumbers' natural digestion process gives their waste products a relatively high (or basic) pH, which means the water surrounding sea cucumber habitats is somewhat protected from ocean acidification. Sea cucumbers also excrete calcium carbonate, which is a primary ingredient in coral formation, and ammonia, which acts as a fertilizer and promotes coral growth.

These otherworldly animals have been prized as a delicacy in Asia for centuries, where the wealthiest class would eat the animals as a nutritious high-protein treat. But it wasn't until the 1980s that demand exploded. A growing middle class in China meant more people could afford the luxury. Today, they're typically dried and packaged in ornate boxes, then given as gifts and served on special occasions. So, the fancier and more unusual-looking, the better. And more expensive.

The Japanese sea cucumber at up to $3,500 a kilo, it's the most expensive sea cucumber on the market. Compared to other varieties, like the Golden Sandfish, Dragonfish, and Curry Fish. And even if you order a common species on Amazon, you could still pay over $170 for a plate. Besides presentation, cucumber connoisseurs also value thick, chewy bodies and to a lesser extent, taste.

But the experience of eating them is only part of their appeal. Turns out sea cucumbers contain high levels of a chemical called fucosylated glycosaminoglycan in their skin, which people across Asia have been using to treat joint problems like arthritis for centuries and more recently in Europe, where people are using it to treat certain cancers and to reduce blood clots.

The sea cucumber craze now comes from all sides. You have the original Asian delicacy demand that started in the 1980s, and the new interest from Western pharmaceutical companies. In response, nations have clamoured to harvest their local species. From Morocco to the United States to Papua New Guinea, everyone wants in on the sea cucumber trade.

For example, from 1996 to 2011, the number of countries exporting sea cucumbers exploded from 35 to 83. But unfortunately, sea cucumbers couldn't handle the strain. In Yucatan, Mexico, for example, divers saw a 95% drop in their harvest just between 2012 and 2014, and that's a problem for everyone.

For one, because the more sea cucumbers are harvested, the rarer and more expensive they become. Average prices rose almost 17% worldwide between 2011 and 2016. And the rarer these animals get, the deeper divers are swimming to find them. That's when fishing gets dangerous.

So far, at least 40 Yucatan divers have died trying to harvest sea cucumbers. And as demand continues to increase, the problem is only getting worse. Of the 70 or more species of exploited sea cucumbers, 7 are now classified as endangered, all through exploitation, forcing numerous fisheries worldwide to shut down and damaging local economies in the process.

So, why not farm sea cucumbers and leave the wild ones alone? Well, it's easier said than done, since many larvae die before reaching maturity and those that do survive take two to six years to grow to a marketable size. That said, aquaculture for a few varieties has started to take off. Like with that fancy Japanese sea cucumber.

Hopefully, more species will be farmed instead of fished in the future, if not to protect local economies and help develop potentially life-saving drugs, then at least to preserve a fascinatingly bizarre animal.

The Future Of CubeSat Propulsion By Morpheus Space

The start-up company Morpheus Space develops complete nanosatellite propulsion systems opening up for a sustainable future in space. Morpheus Space addresses handling debris, collision avoidance and agile constellations in space by smart NewSpace solutions, in line with what UN indicates on a sustainable future in space. This is done by using also Artificial Intelligent (AI) to identify the best solutions.

There Mission is to pioneer a new trend in the space industry, where micro launchers are the go-to in-orbit transports for all kind of missions. Since the Morpheus Space satellites will not be dependent anymore on the big rockets to deliver them in their desired orbit altitude. There patented electric space propulsion technology will able them to significantly modify the orbit of small satellites and significantly lower the launch costs.

Morpheus Space highest goal is to show the NewSpace industry that a sustainable approach to nanosatellite missions means not just keeping the Low Earth Orbit clean by assuring a re-entry into the atmosphere.

If the solutions for re-entry are taken into account early on in the design process of a space mission, new possibilities open up to optimize operations of small to large scale constellations, which lead in the end to better and smarter business models.

Morpheus Space has developed four products: 1. NanoFEEP – Complete Electric Propulsion System, 2. MultiFEEP – Complete Electric Propulsion System, 3. Collision Avoidance – Satellite Network Management Service (Tier 1) and 4. Agile Constellations – Satellite Network Management Service (Tier 2).

Morpheus Space technology was developed during many years of research at the Institute of Aerospace Engineering of TU Dresden. At its core lies the FEEP technology specially developed for miniaturized applications using the low-melting metallic gallium propellant, as well as a chip-based neutralizer with the corresponding supply and control electronics. 

The system’s components are optimized to deliver the best propulsion performance for the least amount of space, mass and necessary electrical power, which are the most valuable commodities on board of a nanosatellite. Due to the system’s plug-and-play nature, the integration into a satellite platform is easy and highly customizable in order to fulfil the propulsion requirements of almost all low Earth orbit missions.

The NanoFEEP is a miniaturized ion thruster that uses a special low-melting-point alloy as a propellant. The MultiFEEP design lies at the forefront of micro propulsion technology. This unique system is designed for satellite missions, which have challenging requirements with regard to total delta-V, maximum thrust levels and precise thrust vector control.

As the underlying technology is the same as with NanoFEEP, the same space mission inheritance and high level of reliability are provided, while delivering ten-times higher thrust and maximum delta-V potential in the world of nanosatellite propulsion systems.

The UWE-4 satellite  (University W├╝rzburg Experimental satellite-4), one of the first 1U CubeSats to host electric propulsion, was launched in December 2018. Its primary mission was to fully characterize the Morpheus Space propulsion systems in orbit and provide the company`s propulsion systems with the most important attribute in the space industry: Flight Heritage.

Currently, there is no way of saving a nanosatellite from collisions with other objects. This not only means that in case of a collision, the satellite is lost, but also the whole orbit will be unusable for a long time. This has a great impact on the bottom line of each satellite constellation operating company. Even if the satellite would have the means of moving out of the way, the current prediction capabilities are approximately hours or a day at most.

Morpheus Space, in collaboration with its strategic partners, offers a never before seen collision avoidance service for nanosatellites. It is able to increase the prediction time to the order of weeks, which combined with the company`s agile propulsion system is more than enough to avoid almost all predictable collisions.

Agile Constellations is achieved by an Artificial Intelligent (AI) controlled network of nanosatellites equipped with NanoFEEP and MultiFEEP. Morpheus Space will be able for the first time, to truly build up satellite networks that can be operated as one entity, opening up new disrupting business opportunities and models in the NewSpace industry.

A current and very serious problem in the space industry is the ever-growing space debris. To continue to use space in the future, the debris must be disposed of much faster as that is the case naturally

With NanoFEEP, a small CubeSat who would otherwise be in orbit for 25 years could be propelled back into the atmosphere within 2 years. With MultiFEEP, one can even dispose of a 6U CubeSat within 2 years, which would otherwise orbit for 1000 years as a space debris

The growing popularity of small satellites has prompted several startups like Boston-based Accion Systems, Expulsion of Austria and Orbion Space Technology of Houghton, Michigan. But Morpheus Space is unique among them so let's see what future Holds. 

Quantum Computer, How Does It Work And What It Can Do?

Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object's state before it is measured - instead of just 1s or 0s - which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.

Classical computers carry out logical operations using the definite position of a physical state. These are usually binary, meaning its operations are based on one of two positions. A single state - such as on or off, up or down, 1 or 0 - is called a bit.

In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what's known as a qubit. These states are the undefined properties of an object before they have been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarization of a photon.

Rather than having a clear position, unmeasured quantum states occur in a mixed 'superposition', not unlike a coin spinning through the air before it lands in your hand. These superpositions can be entangled with those of other objects, meaning their final outcomes will be mathematically related even if we don't know yet what they are.

The complex mathematics behind these unsettled states of entangled 'spinning coins' can be plugged into special algorithms to make short work of problems that would take a classical computer a long time to work out. Such algorithms would be useful in solving particular mathematical problems, like finding very large prime numbers. 

Since prime numbers are so important in cryptography, it’s likely that quantum computers would quickly be able to crack many of the systems that keep our online information secure. Because of these risks, researchers are already trying to develop technology that is resistant to quantum hacking and on the flip side of that, it’s possible that quantum-based cryptographic systems would be much more secure than their conventional analogues.

Researchers are also excited about the prospect of using quantum computers to model complicated chemical reactions, a task that conventional supercomputers aren’t very good at all. In July 2016, Google engineers used a quantum device to simulate a hydrogen molecule for the first time. Shortly after that IBM has managed to model the behaviour of even more complex molecules. Eventually, researchers hope they will be able to use quantum simulations to design entirely new molecules for use in medicine

Building a functional quantum computer requires holding an object in a superposition state long enough to carry out various processes on them. Unfortunately, once a superposition meets with materials that are part of a measuring system, it loses its in-between state in what's known as decoherence and becomes a boring old classical bit.

Devices need to be able to shield quantum states from decoherence, while still making them easy to read. Different processes are tackling this challenge from different angles, whether it's to use more robust quantum processes or to find better ways to check for errors.

For the time being, classical technology can manage any task thrown at a quantum computer. Quantum supremacy describes the ability of a quantum computer to outperform their classical counterparts.

Google, IBM and a handful of startups are racing to create Quantum computers and achieve Quantum Supremacy.  But the quantum future isn't going to come easily and there's no knowing what it'll look like when it does arrive. At the moment, companies and researchers are using a handful of different approaches to try and build the most powerful computers the world has ever seen. 

In November 2017, when IBM announced it had built a 50-qubit quantum computer. However, it was far from stable, as the system could only hold its quantum microstate for 90 microseconds, a record, but far from the times needed to make quantum computing practically viable. Just because IBM has built a 50-qubit system doesn’t necessarily mean they have cracked supremacy and it definitely doesn’t mean that they have created a quantum computer that is anywhere near ready for practical use.

Quantum computing is by no means a two-horse race. Californian startup Rigetti is focusing on the stability of its own systems rather than just the number of qubits and it could be the first to build a quantum computer that people can actually use. D-Wave, a company based in Vancouver, Canada, has already created what it is calling a 2,000-qubit system although many researchers don’t consider the D-wave systems to be true quantum computers. Intel, too, has skin in the game. In February 2018 the company announced that it had found a way of fabricating quantum chips from silicon, which would make it much easier to produce chips using existing manufacturing methods

Everybody isn't convinced that quantum computers are worth the effort. Some mathematicians believe there are obstacles that are practically impossible to overcome, putting quantum computing forever out of reach. Time will tell who is right.

Curing Our Plastic Problem An Eco-Friendly Way To Degrade Plastics

Plastic is both a super product and an ecological nightmare. It's cheap, durable and won't rot, which means it's great for shopping bags and fast food, but also means it sticks around for hundreds of years. Plastic waste is creeping into every corner of the planet, It pollutes the water we drink and the food we eat. It suffocates wildlife.

But thanks to an unexpected ally in the form of a bacterial enzyme, we may have a chance at solving this growing pollution problem. Because of the new discovery, bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate or PET could be broken down much quicker than the 450 years it normally takes. The enzyme responsible for that is a mutant form of PET known as PETase, which was originally discovered in a Japanese landfill some years ago.

The bacteria was discovered back in 2016, but it wasn’t until recently that British and American scientists studying it created a mutant enzyme that can break the plastic down by eating it in a matter of days. Like so many scientific discoveries before it, the mutated enzyme came about by accident, when scientists shone an X-ray beam on it in order to look at its atoms. This process unexpectedly altered PETase and made it 20% more effective at eating PET.

What makes the discovery so exciting, in addition to clearing up the growing garbage heaps of plastic in our oceans, is that it will allow plastic bottles to be recycled back into plastic bottles. Currently, plastic bottles are only able to be recycled into the opaque fabric for things like clothing or carpeting. In order to make plastic bottles, virgin PET is used and because it is so cheap, companies don’t think twice about churning out more plastic bottles — to the tune of around a million a minute. PETase though would reverse the building blocks of plastic back to their original state in the manufacturing process.

A team of scientists led by McGeehan have filed a patent and will work to stabilize the enzyme at temperatures above 158 degrees Fahrenheit. This would make it possible to break down PET 10-100 times faster. The goal is to work on eventually rolling it out on a large scale for breaking down PET.

McGeehan and his team, of course, aren’t the only scientists working to solve our plastics problem. There’s also the worm solution! yes, worms. Waxworm caterpillars have the ability to break down plastic rather quickly and mealworms possess gut microbes that eat up polystyrene. The key is finding a way to ramp up the worm’s digestion of plastic. Right now it takes around 100 mealworms a day to consume a pill-sized amount of plastic.

Plastic-eating worms, mutant enzymes, whatever weird solutions that can help take more plastic out of the planet is very much a step in the right direction.

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