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Seeds of the Future
Vitamin D-licious Mushrooms
Salamanders and Newts
Poison Dart Frogs
Ant Invasions Change the Rules
No Fair: Monkey Sees, Doesn't
How to Silence a Cricket
A Global Warming Flap
Taking a Spill for Science
Between a rock and a wet place
Chemistry and Materials
The Taste of Bubbles
Revving Up Green Machines
Graphene's superstrength
Earth from the inside out
Electronic Paper Turns a Page
Games with a Purpose
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Little Bits of Trouble
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Finding the Past
Writing on eggshells
Untangling Human Origins
A Long Haul
Hammerhead Sharks
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Food and Nutrition
Recipe for Health
Food for Life
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Human Body
Taking the sting out of scorpion venom
Germ Zapper
Spit Power
Daddy Long Legs
Hermit Crabs
Domestic Shorthairs
Blue Bear
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Black Hole Journey
Gaining a Swift Lift
Echoes of a Stretched Egg
A Change in Leaf Color
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Copperhead Snakes
Space and Astronomy
Saturn's New Moons
A Great Ball of Fire
Ready, Set, Supernova
Technology and Engineering
Smart Windows
Musclebots Take Some Steps
Shape Shifting
The Parts of Speech
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Problems with Prepositions
What is a Noun
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Troubles with Hubble
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Earth's Poles in Peril
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Plastic-munching microbes

After guzzling down a pint of water, soda or a sports drink, most people toss the empty bottle in the recycle bin without a second thought. After all, if it's getting recycled, something useful will come from it again, right? Not necessarily. The type of plastic most bottles are made of — called PET, or polyethylene terephthalate — is usually recycled into only a low-quality plastic that can’t be reused to package food or beverages. In other words, the soda bottle you recycle today isn't going to become another soda bottle any time soon. But a team of researchers in Europe recently found a way to convert PET into a more valuable type of plastic called PHA, or polyhydroxyalkanoate. Because PHA breaks down over time, it is considered biodegradable. That means PHA could be used in medical devices, such as stitches that dissolve inside the body. In larger quantities, it could also be used as an environmentally friendly type of food packaging — biodegradable cellophane. Heating PET plastic produces three breakdown products — a solid called terephthalic acid, or TA, as well as a liquid and a gas. The research team knew that some strains of bacteria feed on TA, and that other strains of bacteria can produce the biodegradable plastic PHA. But nobody had ever seen a strain of bacteria that fed on TA and produced PHA. Could such a strain exist? To find out, the scientists studied soil collected near a plastic bottle factory in Ireland.They found bacteria living on particles of PET in soil that had likely been contaminated by TA during the bottle-making process. And in the lab, they found what they had looked for — strains of bacteria that both break down TA and produce PHA. Harnessing this bacteria's ability to convert TA to PHA could be an important next step in recycling PET, says Kevin O'Connor, the microbiologist who led the research. The ability to convert discarded products made of PET into another useful material, a process called "upcycling," would create new demand for what has historically been a low-quality recycled material. "While PET to PHA is not the sole answer to PET recycling, it can be part of the solution," he says.

Plastic-munching microbes
Plastic-munching microbes

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