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Newly Sequenced Spider Glue Pave Way For Biomaterials

Scientists successfully sequenced spider glue genes that could show potential towards mass production of biomaterials Click To Tweet

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Photo by michael podger on Unsplash

Recently, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County postdoctoral fellow Sarah Stellwagen and her co-author Rebecca Renberg at the Army Research Lab have successfully published the complete sequences of genes that enable spiders to produce glue.

Spider glue is made of sticky silk and used by spiders to form webs for catching their prey. There are about 45,000 known species of spiders with each producing at least one type of silk. It is water soluble when it is still inside the spider’s body, then becomes insoluble to water after it has been produced outside the body. The unique characteristics of this material have piqued the interest of scientists.

Furthermore, the silk is also touted as the next breakthrough in making biomaterials due to its elasticity — making it flexible and able to absorb higher impact as well as it’s unusual tensile.

Because of the inimitable characteristic of silk being able to transform to a solid state from its liquid form inside the spider’s body, scientists find it challenging to reproduce. Scientists can recreate the liquid produced, but “we can’t replicate the process of going from liquid to solid on a large industrial scale,” Stellwagen says.

On the other hand, spider glue appears as a liquid, whether it is inside the spider’s body or outside—this may make it easier for scientists to produce spider glue in the laboratory compared to spider silk.

Throughout the years, researchers have been trying to unravel the secrets behind the spiders’ glue. Aside from being biodegradable and water-soluble, spider glue also remains sticky even after a long period and over many rounds of attachment and release.

Many species of spiders live in areas with humid conditions, yet surprisingly, spider glue still sticks firmly to wet surfaces. One goal of sequencing genes is for scientists to be able to create a synthetic version. These genes could be incorporated into the genes of other organisms such as bacteria and yeast to make the same glue.

Stellwagen sees a huge potential for spider glue to be used as organic pest control as it was, in the first place, produced to “capture insect prey.” Because it is an organic product, it could be applied without worrying about polluting the waterways compared to inorganic pesticides. It could be used on barn walls to protect livestock and sprayed on crops to prevent infestations. Also, it could be applied in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic.     

Maximizing its features, scientists believe that there is a wide array of potentials for spider glue. It may lead to the development of bio-based adhesives and glues, referred to as “green glues,” which could replace petroleum-based products. Aside from organic pest control, it could be utilized as washable filters and mouse traps, among others.

Before this finding, the longest silk gene sequenced was approximately 20,000 base pairs. It took the researchers two years to completely sequence the genes. As what Stellwagen has said, “It ended up being this behemoth of a gene that’s more than twice as large as the previous largest silk gene.”

Aside from being remarkably long, the spider glue gene contained a lot of repetitive sequences in the middle, similar to the genes of spider silk. The numerous repetitive sequences posed a challenge to the researchers because of certain limitations in the methods they used. According to them, “It’s challenging. You’re picking a needle from a haystack.” Luckily, after two years of trying, they finally got the results that they needed to complete the sequence.

For many years, scientists have tried to sequence silk and glue genes. However, the task is challenging because of the length and repetitive structure of their sequences. “I’m super excited that I was able to finally figure out the puzzle because it was just so hard,” Stellwagen says. “Ultimately, we learned a lot, and I am happy to put that out there for the next person who is trying to solve some ridiculous gene.”

Currently, there are only about 20 complete genes that have been successfully sequenced, but there are a lot more genes out there that are still waiting to be sequenced. Thus, this recent finding has become a huge step in the sequencing or more silk and glue genes that could lead us to discover better and more efficient biomaterials.

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‘4Ocean’ Gathers 4.7 Million Pounds Of Ocean Trash And Continues To Make History

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Ocean Waste, 4Ocean
Photo: Karen Roe | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Four years ago, two young surfers went on a post-college trip to Bali — to find relief in the comforting waves of Indonesian water. But instead of playing along the beaches, what they’ve discovered marked the beginning of a company that will eventually save millions of marine life.

Andrew Cooper, 28 and Alex Schulze 27, both from Florida, are the brainchild of a multimillion-dollar business that aims to help clean up oceans littered with garbage. They have known each other since college — where both took up business and graduated in 2014. It was a year after their graduation that the two decided to embark on a surfing trip to Bali, not knowing what the future holds.

Then an idea came up in 2015 when the two approached a lifeguard and were worried that some of the beaches hadn’t been cleaned up. The amount of garbage, mostly composed of single-use plastics, is enough to poison every aquatic organism. The event inspired Cooper and Schulze to create a start-up company that focuses on how water waste can turn into useful items, and at the same time, provides an avenue for them to clean up the world’s oceans.

The Birth of 4Ocean

It was on the said trip that led the two to build “4Ocean” – a year after their Bali tour. Going back to Florida, Cooper and Schulze brought with them a dream to build a business that focuses on removing plastic and glass waste from the ocean. The collected waste will be “repurposed” and “recycled” to create

Schulze, on an interview with CBS, said that they had a lot of “second thoughts” before establishing 4Ocean. Friends called them “nuts,” and it was their turning point.

Out of determination and passion for saving the ocean, the company was finally launched in January 2017. It shocked the world when it announced that almost 1 million pounds of plastic, glass, and other trash are collected from the ocean. These garbages were turned into 30 million dollars worth of recycled bracelets, and the company promised to get more trash to fund their ongoing clean-up efforts.

And so the birth of “4Ocean’ company — an extraordinary solution to solve global water pollution crisis.

From Trash to Cash

On its first semester, the company pledged to remove one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines for each bracelet sold. 4Ocean gets its fund through collecting plastic and glass waste from oceans around the world — introducing the process of “repurposing.” Out of those recycled materials, the company creates bracelets and sells each one of them for a sum of 20 dollars. The money collected from each purchase will fund one pound of trash removal.

Today, each uniquely-colored bracelet represents an animal or ecosystem threatened by ocean waste pollution and backs up the organization fighting to protect them. The 4Ocean Legacy bracelet is composed of a cord that came from a recycled plastic bottle while its beads emanated from a reused glass.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Bracelet and 4Ocean Signature Bracelet are some of this year’s unique bracelets featured in 4Ocean’s online website. The former is a blue-colored stylish bracelet designed for any ages and gender, while the latter mirrors the color of sea turtles which is green.

All bracelets have the goal to create an impact, most especially in our fight against water pollution. It can be viewed and purchased at www.4Ocean.com, an online website of 4Ocean for pre-orders and other purchasing transactions.

A Million-dollar Dream to Reality

With the aid of 4Ocean, countries from different parts of the world realized the pressing issue of water pollution. Indonesia, who suffers from pollution problems, as it also lacks the necessary equipment to handle crisis such as this, sees the urgency to clean up its beaches. The government in Bali already passed various legislations to align its goal with that of 4Oceans.

Today, 4Oceans has already removed 4.7 million pounds of trash from the ocean since 2017 and is employed 300 workers in the process. It has extended its effort globally and now operates not just in the U.S, but also in Bali and Haiti, where employees’ workforce removes the trash.

According to the founders, more than 40 percent of the company’s profit from selling bracelets is kept to fund its clean-up operations, while ten percent of it goes to their charity partners, including non-profit environmental organizations. The rest is distributed as salaries for their employees, and what’s left will be invested back in the business to continue its progress.

Aside from its legendary bracelets, 4Ocean also recently put other items for sales like t-shirts and water bottles that are both from recycled materials to further fund the company’s clean-up development.

Up next: From 4.7 Million to 10 Million

Approximately, 8 million tons of plastic waste is thrown in the world’s ocean each year. From roughly 4.7 million, the company now aims to reach 10 million pounds of trash by the end of 2019.

Both Cooper and Schulze believe that they have revolutionized a solution that incorporates trash issue with an entrepreneurial twist. The company plans to recruit more paid workers so that they can hit the 10-million quota and turns 4Ocean into the world’s largest organization devoted to cleaning the ocean.

The pair hopes that for every bracelet that people are purchasing, it will set as a reminder that waste pollution is a global problem which threatens marine life and can have a severe impact once uncontrolled.

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Global Ice Melting At Rates Faster Than Expected

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Photo by Sergey Kuznetsov on Unsplash

The global ice, or the size and number of glaciers located across cold spots around the world, is a clear indicator of the effects of global warming. With human’s excessive and consistent use of o-zone depleting resources such as fossil fuels — the rate of global ice is melting will only keep accelerating.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that based on data they have gathered since the1900s, glaciers around the globe are shrinking and melting at an alarming rate.

Arctic sea ice has been in constant general low over the years following the increasing trend of greenhouse gas. Additionally, as the frozen ground across the Arctic melts, it releases a massive amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Scientists say that this effect could make global ice melt accelerate even faster.

A separate study found that parts of the Canadian Arctic are experiencing a rate of permafrost thaw six times the long-term average.

Meanwhile, melted ice is especially notable both in and around Greenland — home to the second largest ice sheet on the planet.

“Communities in #Greenland rely on the sea ice for transport, hunting, and fishing. Extreme events, here flooding of the ice by abrupt onset of surface melt call for increased predictive capacity in the Arctic,” Steffen Olsen, a climate researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute said in a tweet.

Olsen was referring to Greenland losing 2 billion metric tons of ice. “The high melt is unusual so early in the season but not unprecedented,” Greenland Ice said in a tweet.

Experts are calling the lost ice “not normal” considering that it equates to almost half of Greenland. Roughly 45 percent of the ice sheet surface has been melting. Usually, less than 10 percent of the ice sheet surface is melting at this time of year. According to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Wednesday set a daily record for the widest melt area on that date, with 275,000 square miles.

“I’m losing the ability to communicate the magnitude [of change],” Jeremy Mathis, a longtime Arctic researcher and a current board director at the National Academies of Sciences told Mashable. “I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.”

On other parts of the globe, a city in western Alaska is experiencing drastic changes to its land formations as the state’s ice and permafrost are starting to thaw away.

“Springtime in Alaska isn’t what it used to be. This is the 3rd time past 21 years we can say” warmest spring of record.” 1998 was the warmest to date, exceeded in 2016 and now 2016 exceeded in 2019. Trend +4.0F (+2.2C) since the 1970s.” Rick Thoman said in a tweet.

The continued ice and permafrost melting in Iceland are causing significant damages in terms of requiring towns and villages like Newtok in western Alaska to relocate to avoid dangers.

“It’s a real challenge because in the US there isn’t the precedence to deal with this and there isn’t the political framework to deal with it either,” said Susan Natali, a scientist and Arctic expert at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “The numbers needing relocation will grow, the costs are going up and people’s lives and cultural practices will be impacted.

“Every year there’s a new temperature record, it’s getting worse and worse and you feel like a broken record saying it. This should be the number one urgent conversation happening right now because it’s not just going to be Alaska, it’s going to be other communities all over the US,” Natali added.

The problem does not only persist in Greenland, the Arctic or Alaska. Global ice is melting all across the globe. “The famed snows of Kilimanjaro have melted more than 80 percent since 1912. Glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya in India are retreating so fast that researchers believe that most central and eastern Himalayan glaciers could virtually disappear by 2035 […] From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast,” the National Geographic reported.

This week, the Pope has talked to oil executives in the Vatican to find solutions in the growing problem of global warming. He called for a “radical energy transition” from conventional fossil fuels and develop greener energy alternatives.

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Bitcoin Carbon Footprint Is As Massive As The Impact Caused By Las Vegas and Sri Lanka

A study reveals that the carbon footprint produced by bitcoin mining operations is as huge as that of Las Vegas and the entire country of Sri Lanka. Click To Tweet

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A study reveals that the carbon footprint produced by bitcoin mining operations is as huge as that of Las Vegas and the entire country of Sri Lanka and Jordan.
Bitcoin mining uses too much energy it's compared to Las Vegas. Photo: Marco Verch | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When companies operate their business solely online, one would think that they have a substantially lower environmental impact than those who conduct business traditionally; however, a study suggests that this is not the case.

A case study on bitcoin operations reveals that bitcoin’s carbon footprint — the world’s most robust cryptocurrency — is so massive to the extent that it can rival the environmental impact caused by Las Vegas or a small country like Sri Lanka. According to the study conducted by Christian Stoll, Lena Klaaßen, Ulrich Gallersdörfer from Technical University of Munich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bitcoin generates about 22 megatons in CO2 emissions each year.

While it is true that cryptocurrencies supposedly depend on online blockchain technology to process transactions like transferring of funds, and doesn’t have a physical infrastructure that is huge enough to cause such amount of carbon emissions, the researchers said that this validation process uses “vast amounts of electricity,” which causes some severe carbon emissions.

During 2018, according to the study, the computing power required to solve a Bitcoin puzzle increased more than 4-fold until October and heightened electricity consumption accordingly. Speculations about the Bitcoin network’s source of fuel have suggested, among other things, Chinese coal, Icelandic geothermal power, and Venezuelan subsidies. To keep global warming below 2°C—as internationally agreed in Paris COP21—net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of the century are crucial.

Bitcoin mining operations use too much electricity

One area of interest for researchers is the effect of bitcoin mining, the process by which people can earn bitcoins without spending money through painstakingly scavenging for small amounts across the internet. To estimate the electricity consumption, the study authors used IP addresses and hardware data from recent IPO filings. It was determined the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin, as of November 2018, to be 45.8 TWh and estimate that yearly carbon emissions range from 22.0 to 22.9 MtCO2.

The study revealed that “There is no typical size of cryptocurrency mining operations.” The operations range from college students aiming to earn enough funds to pay for their electric bills, to gamers who leverage their graphics cards whenever they are not playing (as reflected in Nvidia’s volatile sales allocated to crypto), all the way up to large-scale crypto-mining farms. These mining operations have consumed enough electricity around the world to compare with electricity consumption like that of Jordan, a small middle-eastern country.

Regulation on mining operations necessary

According to the discussion presented by the researchers, their study sets up baseline information that would lead to a better understanding of the environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies and serves as a guide for a policymaker to develop climate-positive policies. They said that the results of the study could not be overlooked and should be a basis for policymakers to build balancing regulations.

Furthermore, the results were said to highlight the necessity of cost/benefit trade-offs for blockchain applications in general. While the researchers do not invalidate the benefits of cryptocurrencies, the “current debate is focused on anticipated benefits, and more attention needs to be given to costs.” And as the researchers have been pushing, policymakers should not ignore these results.

“Naturally, there are bigger factors contributing to climate change. However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive,” one of the authors, Christian Stoll, said in a statement.

“To improve the ecological balance, one possibility might be to link more mining farms to additional renewable generating capacity.”

Tip of the iceberg

Meanwhile, the researchers said that their analysis of carbon footprint of bitcoin is just the “tip of the iceberg” as other cryptocurrencies also carry significant carbon footprints upon their shoulders as well. This highlights the need to regulate cryptocurrency mining operations as it has external impacts – specifically to the environment.

“Bitcoin’s power consumption may only be the tip of the iceberg. Including estimates for three other cryptocurrencies adds 30 TWh to our annual estimate for Bitcoin. If we assume correlation to market capitalization and consider only mineable currencies (unlike second layer tokens or coins with other consensus mechanisms), the remaining 618 currencies could potentially add a power demand over 40 TWh. This more than doubles the power consumption we estimate for Bitcoin,” the study concludes.

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