A Worm Enzyme Might Help Rid World of Some Thrown-Away Plastic

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Henderson Island beach. Photo: Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

It is widely believed that is possible to rid ourselves of plastic items we no longer want by throwing them away. A study of Henderson Island, a 14.4 sq mile (37.3 sq km) spit of land in the Pitcairn Islands, which are far from anywhere else in the far reaches of the South Pacific, has demonstrated with frightening certainty that, as an old saying has it, “there’s no such place as away.”

Virtually every available surface, and too many buried ones to count on Henderson Island, are covered with bits of plastic, much of it from China, significant amounts also from Japan and Chile, according to scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and the Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in the UK. Some 37 million pieces in all have made Henderson Island one of if not the largest homes globally for parted-with plastic.

The scientists’ report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, said the plastics debris density on Henderson Island is higher than anywhere else on earth. While its accumulated 37 million pieces of discarded plastic is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of the 5 trillion plastic pieces – some 250,000 tons worth – littering the world. And its presence in this once pristine piece of property makes a mockery of the island’s status as a UNESCO-designated “World Heritage” site, as “one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence.”

That declaration was made as recently as 1988 – a mere 29 years ago.

Not only is the accumulated plastic an eyesore to those rare souls who approach close enough to uninhabitable Henderson to see it, it’s a real risk to wildlife on and near the island. As the plastic drifts closer to Henderson, which sits amidst what’s called the South Pacific’s ocean gyre, an enormous area comprising one of half a dozen major circulating areas for ocean currents, water from vast areas on either side of the Pacific contribute trash as well as water from diverse sources. (That’s why Henderson’s plastic comes from so far afield.) Sea creatures ingest or get tangled in plastic materials, which either kill them quickly or slowly choke the life out of them. Land animals, too, often become victims of plastic materials eaten because they smelled or appeared edible.

These problems are destined to become more widespread unless mankind, collectively, takes steps to reduce the creation and use of plastic materials.

That and finding, in the guts of a certain species of wax worms, the enzyme that enables it to “eat” plastic:That such an enzyme exists stems from findings of a part-time Spanish beekeeper, a day-job researcher who found that the worms, whose caterpillar parents like to munch on beeswax inside his hives, were able to eat their way out a plastic bag he’d put some in.

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A hole eaten through a plastic bag by a wax worm. (Photo: Federica Bertocchini, Paolo Bombelli, and Chris Howe

Great scientific answers, and solutions, have been launched from less auspicious starts than that! Who knows? In time a wax worm enzyme could, if replicated on a large enough scale, take a bite out of the world’s plastic waste problem. But don’t hold your breath: That kind of advance isn’t likely to happen with this, or even the next, decade or three.


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Child- and Gang-Rapes Are Running Rampant in India

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The family of a five-year-old girl who was raped stage a protest on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road seeking treatment for her at a private hospital in Gurgaon, India, and fast disposal of the case.

Of all the many and oh-so-varied cultures in the world, India’s seems to be among the least appreciative of the concept enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, that: “All men are created equal.” Women there, only second to the second-class treatment of women in predominantly Moslem countries, far too often are made victims of brutal rapes. Even, even more sadly, when they are but children.

Two recent reports on Newser (and here) paint a horrid picture of the problem: A 10-year-old being raped, made pregnant, then having to struggle to get (as she finally did) permission to get aborted, and another couple of women getting gang raped – one in a moving car (the mind boggles!) – in a culture that, in too many instances, still also accepts revenge killings.

I am not a religious person, and I have trouble getting my mind about how, and why, practitioners of various religions – any of them – faithfully accepting, as they do, what they do.

My wife and I watched a “Law & Order” show recently about a case where a super-religious girl was taken advantage of – raped, in short – by a fellow believer in her ‘faith’ that him having sex with her – “curative sex” – would free her of her desire for another woman. Guess what? The spiritual leader who encouraged his flock to so behave, ended up, as the encourager of illegal actions, in prison. So, of course, did the rapist. And the saddest news what, they both believed they did nothing wrong.

What’s Swimming In The Pool YOU Use?

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A little known fact: 19% of American adults have admitted to peeing at least once in a swimming pool. The share of children doing so is undoubtedly much higher than that.

If you’re wondering, ‘and this is important to know for what reason?’ the reason is simple: Though urine is sterile, it contains various chemicals – urea, ammonia, amino acids and creatinine among them – that can react with such pool sterilizers as chlorine to form volatile disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) that can lead to eye and respiratory irritation and even a form of asthma.

How much pee might there be in a pool? A team of scientists at Canada’s University of Alberta (the Division of Analytical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry) found some in 100% of the sizab le sampling of pools and hot tubs they studied last year, with a 110,000 gallon (416, 395 l) pool containing 7.9 gallons (26.5 l) of urine and a 220.000 gallon pool (832,790 l) included close to 20 gallons (75 l) of liquid human waste.

It’s hard to avoid ‘absorbing’ some pool water when you find it streaming down your face when you emerge from beneath it. Even if you don’t swallow, but blow it out, you could be taking in some urine, albeit diluted. But that’s what the pool water samples were in the tests done by the Canadian researchers.

That tinkle of pee you may have absorbed on a single pool visit is hardly like to hurt you. But if you are a regular pool user, this is a fact to keep in mind: That person next to you – yes, that one – just did a bladder dump, and the splasher on the far side of that person is pushing “it”| toward you.

 

Fore! Is That a Golf Ball in My Hash Browns?

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Foods get recalled for an assortment of (sometimes odd) reasons – but because they may contain pieces of golf balls? CNN reported Sunday that McCains announced a recall over the weekend of several brands of hash brown potatoes because, as the company put it, “they may contain extraneous golf ball materials” – from balls (or pieces thereof) grabbed along with the spuds during the harvesting process.

It’s not uncommon for farm land to be re-purposed for other uses, but it says something – what, we’re not sure! – when a golf course’s greens are replaced by fields of brown potatoes. If, in fact, that’s what happened in this instance. Or perhaps someone was randomly firing golf balls into a potato field.

A statement on the FDA website says: “McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.

The impacted products include the following: Roundy’s Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 001115055019) and Harris Teeter Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 007203649020).

The Roundy’s products were distributed at Marianos, Metro Market, and Pick ‘n Save supermarkets in the states of Illinois and Wisconsin. The Harris Teeter products were distributed in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Maryland. Distribution occurred after the date of January 19, 2017. No other products under the respective brands are impacted by this recall.

The products being recalled were manufactured on January 19, 2017. The production code date is B170119 and can be found on the back of the packaging. Any product with a different production code date is not impacted by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

There have been no reported injuries associated with the consumption of this product.”

14,000-year-old human evidence found in Western British Columbia

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Photo: Joanne McSporran

A coastal strip of land in British Columbia has been occupied at least 14,000 years – back to the time of the last Ice Age, when warm water influences from the Pacific Ocean kept this area from freezing. A CBC report last month, detailing how a meters-deep excavation turned up evidence dating back at least that far, said the discovery lends credence to oral histories of the area by the Heiltsuk Nation, an aboriginal group there. The ancient site, uncovered last November, shows that people occupied this area long before the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the creation of the Pyramids in Egypt, the Vancouver Sun said.

The Triquet Island settlement, reachable only by air or sea, has produced a hoard of valuable artifacts, including pieces of bent wood, compound fish hooks and assorted stone tools. The site is one of the oldest evidence of human habitation ever found in North America.

William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, told Smithsonian.com that the validation by “Western science and archeology” of his people’s long-time occupation of the area can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.

Alaska Town Spends Bulk of Winter In One Building

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Turtle-like, Whittier AK pulls everything inside a single building – all the people, stores, services – as residents ride out Arctic-quality snow and cold every winter. Begich Towers originally was two buildings used to house military personnel and families during World War II. Then a third structure was added during the 1950’s, and a few years ago they were repurposed as a single entity intended to house nearly all of the town’s 218 full-time residents in condo-like units that are interspersed with such services as “a playground, a church, a post office, a clinic, two convenience stores, a police station, a video rental store, city offices and a laundromat all under the one roof,” Smithsonian Magazine reported in late March.

A school serves the community from across the street from Begich Towers.

‘Sounds like a setting made for the kinds of misunderstandings and mishaps forming the under-girding of Fawlty Towers, home to the British TV comedy of the same name. (John Clease created the show with his then-wife, Connie Booth, and both starred in it with Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs. In 2000, it ranked Number One on a list of 100 Greatest British Television Programs.)

Basel Fawlty, a hotel keeper, regularly reacts (mostly inappropriately) to things his staff and guests do. He could have used a dose of the treatment given to “crabby” members of the Begich Towers’ community.


“If somebody’s crabby around here, we just tell them, ‘Alright I’ll see you later,’” June Miller, a full-time Towers resident told Smithsonian Magazine. “[We] let them go and take care of their issues.” After some time apart, she said, everything gets back to normal.

While that approach might have occasionally worked at Fawlty Towers, it probably wouldn’t have, because [1] Basel Fawlty was crabby beyond belief, and [2] that was the whole point of the BBC comedy!

Some of US’s Wealthiest Athletes Prefer 69¢ Snack At Work

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For their homes, many members of the NBA (the National Basketball Association), the top paid four of whom take home a total of more than $100,000,000 per year, have private chefs. At work, at stadiums across the country, one of players’ favorite pre-game snacks is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Maybe more than one, given the size of these guys, who tend to be well in excess of 6′ (1.83m) tall and hardly bean-pole thin!)

Unknown to large swaths of the world beyond the US, PB&J, as the snack is affectionately known to virtually every American, is a centuries-old tradition – dating back to the early days of peanut growing in the US, even before George Washington Carver found hundreds of uses for it (but he did not invent peanut butter!).

One use I suspect he never pursued, perhaps after one trial of it, would be peanut butter soup, a “delicacy” high school classmates of mine and I created on occasional Sunday evenings, when, unlike the rest of the week, we had “requisitions,” kid-selected foods, in our dorm. Why we made it more than once is a mystery, since the stuff hardly halted on its journey from mouth to the other end!

Yep, PB mixed with milk and heated will clean you out quicker, with less pain, than raw or lightly-sauteed Habanero peppers!

Today, there is scarcely a household of native-born Americans that doesn’t have at least an “emergency” jar of PB somewhere handy.

Among those that does is Donald Trump’s. His choice for White House Chef reportedly has no cheffing experience, but his boss declared, when announcing the appointment of Mike Wave, whose cooking-for-cash experience is more or less limited to six months with Blue Apron, the meat kit maker, “he makes a mean PB&J,” the leader of the free world (and under-valued sandwich fan) said. Then he took another bite if his!