Mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic

Stanford and Beihang University researchers have discovered that the common mealworm can biodegrade Styrofoam and other types of polystyrene, thanks to microorganisms in its guts that break down the plastic. This research opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem. 

Image credit: Yu Yang......... Mealworms (larvae of the darkling beetle) munch on Styrofoam, a hopeful sign that solutions to plastics pollution exist. 

Image credit: Yu Yang......... Mealworms (larvae of the darkling beetle) munch on Styrofoam, a hopeful sign that solutions to plastics pollution exist. 

The key is the microorganisms in the worms’ digestive system. These “bugs-within-the-bugs” produce an enzyme that breaks down the foam into organic compounds. What the mealworms don’t digest, they expel as biodegradable substances that return to nature.

Not only can the mealworms biodegrade plastic that we previously thought was non-biodegradable, but the Styrofoam-munching mealworms were as healthy as those that ate a normal diet, and their waste is even safe enough to use as crop soil.

Why it's important: 
33 million tons of plastic are being discarded every year in the U.S. alone, and sadly less than 10 percent gets recycled. Mealworms could take care of a significant chunk of that non-recycled plastic. The researchers will next focus on whether the mealworms can digest other waste like polypropylene, microbeads and bioplastics. 

The papers, published in 'Environmental Science and Technology', are the first to provide detailed evidence of bacterial degradation of plastic in an animal's gut. Understanding how bacteria within mealworms carry out this feat could potentially enable new options for safe management of plastic waste. The researchers now plan to study the foam-degrading gut bacteria more closely and find out whether it’ll eat other environmental menaces. Read More

3D printed Fashion

3D scanners and printers could revolutionise the way we order our clothes in the future. Not only would this revolutionise fashion for the consumer but also for the designers and the manufacturers. Imagine what it would be like if we could have our own body scan and just order clothes that fit us perfectly?

3D printing fashion could possibly fill up the gap between Haute Couture, which is costume made and perfectly tailored for one single person, and the mass produced and limited sizing within Ready-to-Wear. 

The first printable material that is flexible, durable enough to be worn – and to be put in the washing machine. 

New possibility for reducing greenhouse gas in the environment

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed enzyme-functionalized micromotors the size of red blood cells that would be powered by the environment itself,

The micromotors can rapidly zoom around in water,  using enzymes to move around the sea, converting carbon dioxide into a usable solid form as they swim. The micromotors rapidly decarbonated water solutions that were saturated with carbon dioxide. Within five minutes, the micromotors removed 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from a solution of deionized water.

(credit: Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)..... In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant.

(credit: Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)..... In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant.

Spray On Solar Cells On Flexible Surfaces

A revolutionary innovation in solar technology was recently announced by researchers at the University of Toronto, that could lead to reducing the manufacturing costs of solar power.

Illan Kramer and a team of researchers at the university are working on portable solar generators that can be transported in a spray can and then sprayed anywhere where power is needed. "My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof,” says Kramer. The team has invented a new small light-sensitive material called colloidal quantum dots (CQDs). Until now, CQDs could only be put on surfaces through a chemical coating batch process which is a slow, expensive assembly-line approach. They needed a new delivery system for the CQDs.

See a video demonstration of the SprayLD system below.

Kramer's research has been published across a series of journal articles, initially in Applied Physics Letters, then in Advanced Materials and most recently in ACS Nano.

According to Dr. Kramer, being able to spray on solar cells onto flexible surface means you can put an energy source on just about any object or shape. Imagine what it would be like if you could coat your outdoor furniture, bicycle helmets, your mobile phone or the wing of an airplane with solar cells.