7 reuse trailblazers you need to know in 2022

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

These people, companies and organizations are developing a better way than throw away.

Nobel prize awarded for ‘click chemistry’ – an environmentally friendly method of building molecules

Christine Olsson/EPA

by Mark Lorch, University of Hull

The 2022 Nobel prize in chemistry has been awarded to a trio for developing click chemistry, an environmentally friendly method for rapidly joining molecules to develop cancer treatments, create materials and illuminate the workings of cells.

Carolyn R. Bertozzi from Stanford University in the US, Morten Meldal from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and K. Barry Sharpless from Scripps Research, also in the US, will share the 10 million Swedish kronor (£808,554) award “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”.

Chemistry made the modern world, from drugs to synthetic materials, batteries to fuels, flat screens to fertilisers. Often these creations have caused environmental and medical problems, two obvious examples are plastic pollution and health problems associated with “forever chemicals”.

So today chemists are acutely aware of the need to consider the environment and ethical impact of their creations. This has driven scientists to carefully consider how to innovate in a green and sustainable way, while creating new compounds and materials to tackle the world’s challenges.

Building new molecules is hard. It often requires a multitude of sequential individual reactions, each one hampered by side reactions that reduce the purity of the sample. This increases the number and complexity of any further reaction steps, while producing harmful waste that needs careful and expensive disposal.

Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach, CC BY-NC

How it happened

A solution to this problem was conceived by Barry Sharpless at the turn of the millennium. He coined the term “click chemistry”. It’s a concept in which molecules are simply, quickly, reliably and repeatedly joined together in much the same way as a seatbelt clips into its buckle. The idea was the chemical equivalent of the flat-pack wardrobe, while everyone else was building furniture from scratch.

Sharpless also stipulated that click reactions should be carried out in water, instead of harmful solvents commonly used by synthetic chemists to dissolve their reactants. This was a fabulous concept as it would allow quick, reliable and environmentally friendly molecule creation for new products.

But the challenge was making the chemical belts and buckles. The first example of click chemistry was devised by Morten Meldal in 2008 while working on a well studied reaction between two chemicals; azides and alkynes. These are frequently used to join chemicals together, however they normally produce a mucky mess of reactants. But when copper was added to the mix, the reaction produced one, incredibly stable product.

Click Chemistry. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2022. Wed. 5 Oct 2022.

The reaction became extremely popular as it allowed chemists to rapidly change the functionality of a chemical or material. A fibre could have the chemical buckle attached during manufacturing and later extra functionality could be added. The reaction made it easy to click in anti-bacterials, UV protective compounds, or substances that conduct electricity.

In 2004, Carolyn Bertozzi took click chemistry a step further by applying the principle to a biological problem. A common technique for studying the behaviour of molecules in a cell is to attach a fluorescent, glowing label which is clearly visible under a microscope. However, connecting the label to exactly the right part of the cell is tricky.

Bertozzi realised that click chemistry offered a solution. Unfortunately copper, used in Meldal’s original click chemistry method, is toxic to living things so it could not be directly applied to Bertozzi’s problem. Instead she came up with a technique that works without the copper. She attached the azide “buckle” to a sugar molecule. This gets absorbed to the cell, incorporated, and presented on the cell’s surface. A modified alkalyne (the clip) connected to a green fluoresent molecule then gets added to the cell where it clicks to the azide sugar. Then the cell can be easily tracked under a microscope.

Bioorthogonal chemistry illuminates the cell. CC BY-NC

Bertozzi’s technique has led to insights into how tumour cells evade our immune systems and helped develop methods to track cancerous cells. It has also helped to target radiotherapies directly to cancer cells, reducing the harm to nearby healthy cells.

Click chemistry is elegant and efficient. It has allowed chemicals to be joined together almost as smoothly as clicking together two blocks of Lego. Its simplicity has seen its uses spread rapidly through the field of chemistry with applications in pharmaceuticals, DNA sequencing and materials with added functionality (such as magnetic and electrical). There is little doubt the applications of the technique will expand and be applied to the world’s most pressing issues.

Mark Lorch, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry, University of Hull

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pollution Prevention Works: A Storytelling Challenge for Students

EPA has launched a challenge promoting innovation in pollution prevention at industrial and federal facilities. The Challenge invites high school and college students and to use the TRI P2 Search Tool to identify a TRI facility that has reported implementing source reduction practices and tell a compelling story about how those practices or techniques benefit the business and positively impact communities and the environment. The challenge is open now and all entries must be submitted by February 17, 2023.

Misfits Market and Upcycled Food Association host repurposed food challenge offering nationwide distribution for winning entrepreneur

Read the full story at Waste360.

Today, on the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, Misfits Market and the Upcycled Food Association announced they are launching The Upcycling Challenge, a contest for food entrepreneurs to create an innovative, sustainable, and delicious food product that repurposes excess food or waste. Finalists will pitch new products to a panel of judges at EXPO West in March 2023 in Anaheim, California. Challenge winners will receive a one-year slot placement on Misfits Market with national branding and promotional opportunities and distribution in all 48 lower states, in addition to waived fees for the product to become Upcycled Certified by the Upcycled Food Association.

Green Plant of the Year 2022: Vital Farms

Read the full story in Food Processing.

Vital Farms’ Egg Central Station in Springfield, Mo. processes 6 million eggs a day all while staying committed to sustainability. Read why Vital Farms was named Food Processing’s 2022 Green Plant of the Year.

Kickstart: A ‘genius’ for tracking plastic waste

Read the full story at Plastics News.

Jenna Jambeck, the University of Georgia professor of environmental engineering who helped create systems to track plastic pollution, has been named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for 2022.

She is one of 25 people to receive the honor, often referred to as a “MacArthur Genius Grant.” Each fellow also receives an $800,000 “no-strings-attached” cash award.

Jambeck has been involved in tracking marine plastics for decades. Her team developed the Circularity Assessment Protocol as a “rigorous, cost-effective toolkit” to reveal how plastic “flows into a community, how it is consumed, and how it flows out, either through waste management or via leakages into the environment,” the foundation wrote.

From 480 innovative submissions to 12 sustainable solutions: Where are the NextGen Cup Challenge winners now?

Read the full story from Closed Loop Partners.

In 2018, the NextGen Consortium launched its first initiative, the NextGen Cup Challenge––a global design competition seeking to identify and commercialize existing and future solutions for the single-use, hot and cold fiber cup system. Students, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, designers and businesses were invited to submit their ideas for the cup of the future. After a rigorous four-month review process, the Challenge narrowed nearly 500 submissions from over 50 countries down to 12 winners. 

These 12 winning solutions––broadly categorized into innovative cup liners, new materials and reusable cup service models––were chosen for their potential to help turn the 250 billion fiber to-go cups used annually from waste into valuable materials that can be reused and recovered. 

Today, many of these innovations continue to disrupt the status quo of the single-use cup, a seemingly convenient product that has come with a steep price over the years: cups ending up in landfills, creating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. As companies look for ways to shift their business practices away from a wasteful take-make-waste system, there are tremendous opportunities for new solutions. The next wave of cup design is more innovative than ever, with new materials that can reduce environmental impact, and new systems that can keep valuable materials in play for longer.  

Over the last three years, we’ve seen the pandemic alter consumer preferences, more corporations commit to sustainability goals, and policy transform the landscape for circular packaging solutions, including reuse models. Amidst all these changes, NextGen Cup Challenge winners are paving a path forward in line with four key trends.

Nobel Prize: How click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry are transforming the pharmaceutical and material industries

Click chemistry joins molecules together by reacting an azide with a cyclooctyne. Boris Zhitkov/Moment via Getty Images

by Heyang (Peter) Zhang, University at Buffalo

The 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to scientists Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K. Barry Sharpless for their development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.

These techniques have been used in a number of sectors, including delivering treatments that can kill cancer cells without perturbing healthy cells as well as sustainably and quickly producing large amounts of polymers to build materials. One click chemistry-based drug is currently undergoing phase 2 clinical trials. Bertozzi is a scientific adviser of the company developing the drug.

We asked chemistry Ph.D. candidate Heyang (Peter) Zhang of the Lin Lab at the University at Buffalo to talk about how these techniques figure in his own research and how they have transformed his field and other industries.

1. How does click and bioorthogonal chemistry work?

Click chemistry, as the name suggests, is a way of building molecules like snapping Lego blocks together. It takes two molecules to click, so researchers refer to each one as click partners.

K. Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal independently discovered that azide, a high-energy molecule with three nitrogens bonded together, and alkyne, a relatively inert and naturally rare molecule with two carbons triple-bonded together, are great click partners in the presence of a copper catalyst. They found that the copper catalyst can bring the two pieces together in an optimal arrangement that snaps them together. Prior to this technique, researchers did not have a way to quickly and precisely make new molecules under accessible conditions, like using water as a solvent at room temperature.

Diagram of click chemistry reaction
By combining an azide with a cyclooctyne, bioorthogonal chemistry allows researchers to join molecules quickly together without disturbing the rest of the cell. Cliu89/Wikimedia Commons

Chemical biologists quickly realized that click reactions can be a fantastic way to probe living systems like cells because they produce little to no toxic byproducts and can happen quickly. However, the copper catalyst is itself toxic to living systems.

Carolyn Bertozzi devised a workaround for this issue by removing the copper catalyst from the reaction. She did this by placing the alkyne into a ring structure, which drives the reaction forward using the ring strain produced from molecules forced into a cyclical shape. These bioorthogonal reactions, or reactions that happen “parallel” to the chemical environment of the cell, can occur in cells without perturbing their normal chemistry.

2. How do you use this chemistry in your work?

In an interview, Carolyn Bertozzi stated that the next steps for bioorthogonal chemistry are to find new reactions and applications for it. Our lab’s research focuses exactly on that.

My colleagues and I apply this technique to track molecules we are interested in as they naturally behave in a cell. In a living cell, we were able to add a probe to a receptor that plays a role in a number of cellular processes.

Carolyn Bertozzi is one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

To find new reactions, our lab has spent the last 15 years to push how fast bioorthogonal reactions can run. Speed is important because many molecules in living organisms are present in low concentrations, and using too much of the chemicals required for the reaction can be toxic for the cell. The faster the reaction, the fewer the unwanted side reactions.

We pioneered another way to achieve click and bioorthogonal reactions with even faster speed. Instead of using an azide and an alkyne like the Nobel Prize winners did originally, we used two other molecules that join together when a light is shined on them. With this technique, we are able to add molecules to the surface of a live cell in as little as 15 seconds. We can then observe how a particular structure on a cell functions in its natural environment, or detect how it changes when exposing it to drugs or other substances. Researchers can then more easily test how cells react to potential treatments.

Currently, we are working to develop a new method of triggering these reactions without light. We are actively working on using bioorthogonal chemistry to improve PET imaging to screen and monitor tumors.

Digram depicting
Bioorthogonal chemistry can be used for ‘click-to-release’ cancer drugs. Rossin 2018 (Nature Communications), CC BY-NC-ND

3. Why are these techniques so important to your field?

Prior to click and bioorthogonal chemistry, there was no way of visualizing molecules in living cells in their natural state.

As an analogy, imagine you needed to find a specific dollar bill with the serial number 01234567. That would be a pretty daunting task. It would require you to go through every dollar you can get your hands on and verify whether the serial number is the one you are looking for.

Tracking molecules in our body is just as hard, if not more. Because biological environments are so complex, it was previously impossible to add a probe to just the molecule of interest without accidentally tagging something else, or worse, altering the normal chemistry of the cell. With bioorthogonal reactions, however, researchers can essentially add a GPS tracker to the molecule without affecting the rest of the cell.

Heyang (Peter) Zhang, PhD Candidate in Chemistry, University at Buffalo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

U.S. EPA announces Phase 1 winners of Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

U.S. EPA recently announced the Phase 1 winners of the Environmental Justice (EJ) Video Challenge for Students. The challenge is intended to enhance communities’ capacity to address environmental and public health inequities. Its goals are to: 

  1. Inspire students at accredited colleges and universities in the United States and its territories to work directly with communities in the identification and characterization of EJ challenges using data and publicly available tools, and
  2. Help communities (including residents and other stakeholders) address EJ challenges and/or vulnerabilities to environmental and public health hazards using data and publicly available tools. 

In Phase 1 of the competition, students created a video to demonstrate innovative approaches to identify and characterize an EJ issue(s) in a select community using data and publicly available tools.

Phase 2 of the challenge will be open to eligible applicants (with at least one student participating from Phase 1 per team) and is expected to launch in September 2022. Phase 2 will focus on enhancing communities’ capacity to address the EJ issue identified in Phase 1. Students will work collaboratively with community-based organizations to develop a strategy that demonstrates effective community engagement and advocacy and/or a proposal to address the EJ issue.

Watch the winning Phase 1 videos.

City critters are focus of Urban Wildlife Photo Awards

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Two coyotes pass in the night on a street in Ontario. An amateur photographer was there to capture the moment, earning top honors in a wildlife competition.

Andrew Interisano won the inaugural Urban Wildlife Photography Awards with his image “Date Night.”