delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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No-one ever gets the truth from plastic man
delirium happy
rho
I am currently reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman which is an interesting if bleak and depressing account of what would happen if humanity disappeared off the face of the planet, and just how long various bits of our legacy would take to fade away (hint: the good bits, not long at all; the bad bits, a hell of a long time).

In the chapter about plastics, he mentions that we can't really predict how long it might take for bacteria to evolve that are capable of breaking down our left-over plastics, but that something of the order of 100,000 years isn't a bad estimate.

Given that humanity is unlikely to disappear overnight, though, I couldn't help but thinking, as I read, of a totally different vision of the future. I'm predicting that some bright spark will come along and evolve or genetically engineer a species of bacteria that's capable of eating our plastics. This will then be released into our oceans and landfills to erase our past sins, but we'll also need a replacement for plastic, since the plastic eaters won't stay put where we want them. So, we'll develop a new type of plastic resistant to our super bacteria. At this point if we had any sense, we'd heavily regulate this, and make sure that we didn't end up dumping bits of it all over the planet. Of course, we wont' have any sense, so we'll fill our landfills and our oceans again and start the exact same problem over again.

I did mention it was a bleak and depressing book, right?

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When I was at uni I learned about a project to encourage bacteria to store carbs as a kind of plastic instead of as starch. The plastic they made wouldn't replace all the oil-based products our society uses, but would be good for at least some applications, and wholly biodegradable by the same bacteria that make it (obviously, there's no point storing your energy as a substance you can't digest!) I wonder what happened to that.

When I heard about it, it was proving difficult to scale up; the amount of energy you'd need to run incubators big enough to get commercially viable amounts was using more fuel than it takes to make conventional plastics. OK, you could power your incubator with renewable technology instead of fossil fuels, theoretically, but renewable energy technology isn't quite there yet. So they were trying to put the relevant gene into plants, which would of course be solar powered. Except that constitutes Evil Genetic Modification, so they were running into political blocks.

Oh, neat. That sounds potentially very awesome, and it also makes sense. I hope that it's still in progress, not only because it could be very helpful to the planet at large, but also because it's just really cool science.

(Physics is and will always be my first love, but I can't deny that I have a bit of a crush oon biology as well.)

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