Could a Seaweed-Eating Microbe Help Solve the Ocean Plastic Crisis?
The use of traditional plastics poses a major threat to the world's oceans: If current trends continue, plastics will outnumber fish by 2050. But the oceans might also contain the solution to this massive problem, researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have discovered.
That solution comes in the form of a microorganism that feeds on seaweed, which researchers have used to create a biodegradable polymer.
"Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans," Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences said in a university press release published by Phys.org Monday. "We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents."
The invention was a collaboration between Goldberg and Professor Michael Gozin of TAU's School of Chemistry, who detailed their findings in the January issue of Bioresource Technology.
Other researchers have developed biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastic, but they all require land and fresh water to grow the plants used to make the alternative plastics, Goldberg explained. The innovation of the Tel Aviv researchers was to develop a process that could be completed in sea water, an important development for land-and-water-scarce countries like Israel.
"There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics," Goldberg said.
The spokesperson at the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi Avigail C. J. Spira celebrated the discovery on Twitter.
How can seaweed save the oceans 🌊? Read about this revolutionary biodegradable plastic developed at @TelAvivUni in… https://t.co/7a8Xx7O08u— Avigail C.J. Spira 🇮🇱 (@Avigail C.J. Spira 🇮🇱)1545796278.0
This isn't the first time that Goldberg has figured out out to put seaweed to sustainable use. His Laboratory for Environmental Bioengineering has also developed ways to use offshore seaweed farms to create ethanol biofuels, proteins and sugars, TAU's Department of Environmental Studies reported.
For their most recent paper, Goldberg and Gozin used the common seaweed Ulva and the microorganism Haloferax mediterranei. But Goldberg said the next step will be to experiment with different combinations.
"We are now conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties," he said in the press release.
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An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
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Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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