Today’s Solutions: February 06, 2023

The world’s plastic pollution problem is one that scientists and eco-warriors are scrambling to solve. Humans have latched on to this environmentally unfriendly material since its invention, and now that we’ve fostered a reliance on it, replacing it or getting rid of it completely has proven incredibly challenging.

So far, we have come up with biodegradable bioplastics made of algae, cornstarch, and sawdust that leave a smaller carbon footprint than regular oil-based plastics, however, the manufacturing process of these plastic alternatives still requires energy sourced from the fossil-fuel energy grid, and therefore cannot claim to be entirely environmentally friendly.

To push the cause forward, researchers in China have created a plastic alternative that they claim to be the most sustainable biodegradable bioplastic out there—and it’s made of completely natural and surprising stuff: salmon sperm.

To form the plastic-like material, two short strands of salmon DNA are mixed with another chemical derived from vegetable oil. The combination results in a soft gel-like substance called hydrogel.

The hydrogel is then freeze-dried to remove any moisture, and from that point can be molded into different shapes. As reported by Gizmodo, scientists have formed the freeze-dried hydrogel into puzzle pieces, a cup, and a plastic DNA model through a process called aqua-welding.

DNA-digesting enzymes are added to the bioplastic once it’s time to recycle it, but if no enzymes are available, the item can be submerged in water which will turn it back into the squishy hydrogel substance (so using this bioplastic material to hold beverages is not recommended).

The researchers say that because this salmon-sperm-derived bioplastic is made from DNA strands, it can also be derived from a range of DNA sources including plants and bacteria. Right now, there’s an estimated 6.3 billion tons of plastic pollution on Earth. The team hopes that their plastic will help reduce plastic waste once it enters the market. More details about bioplastic were published last month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Source study: Journal of the American Chemical SocietySustainable bioplastic made from biomass DNA and ionomers

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