Improving wild bat habitat could prevent a new deadly disease outbreak

Read the full story at Anthropocene Magazine.

Researchers have meticulously traced how habitat loss and climate conspire to drive deadly disease outbreaks; and how saving flowering trees is a key part of the solution.

This coral reef resurrected itself — and showed scientists how to replicate it

Read the full story from NPR.

Though they may not know it, about half a billion people worldwide depend on the ecosystems created and sustained by corals. And with climate change threatening coral’s survival, marine scientist Enric Sala had a goal that might have seemed impossible.

“We wanted to get into a time machine, go back hundreds of years and actually see a coral reef like they used to be everywhere, before we started exploiting them and polluting them and killing them all over the world,” Sala said.

The goal was, in essence, made possible during an expedition that Sala led in 2009 with National Geographic Society. The team traveled to a corner of the South Pacific Ocean, to see if the vibrant and virtually untouched reefs there held any clues to bringing damaged reefs in other parts of the ocean back to health.

MPCA brings cutting-edge technology to Minnesota to remove PFAS from water

Read the full story from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) today announced the purchase of new, state-of-the art technology to remove and destroy bulk concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from contaminated water in the environment. This fall, the state will deploy the technology in the East Metro as part of the ongoing work to address PFAS contamination affecting the drinking water for roughly 174,000 residents. The system is paid for with funds from the 3M settlement.

The process works in two parts. The first technology, surface activated foam fractionation (SAFF), injects outdoor air into contaminated water, turning PFAS into foam that can be separated from the water. The foam is then removed, PFAS levels are significantly reduced, and the water is returned to the environment — both cleaner and safer. The PFAS concentrate then goes to the DEFLUORO unit, a second technology where the carbon-fluorine bonds (the backbone of PFAS chemicals) are broken through electrochemical oxidation. Both technologies are mobile and work without adding any chemicals back into the surface or groundwater.

The Clean Water Act at 50: Big successes, more to be done

Read the full story at e360.

Sparked by the 1970s environmental movement, the Clean Water Act — which marks its 50th anniversary this month — transformed America’s polluted rivers. The Delaware, once an industrial cesspool, is one of the success stories, but its urban stretches remain a work in progress.

Surf and turf: Saving a wave by protecting the land

Read the full story in Hakai Magazine.

In Mexico, scientists, surfers, and a passionate community rally to protect a beloved break.

Genetically engineered bacteria make living materials for self-repairing walls and cleaning up pollution

As a material, bacteria’s ability to rapidly multiply and adapt to different conditions is an asset. Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

by Sara Molinari, Rice University

With just an incubator and some broth, researchers can grow reusable filters made of bacteria to clean up polluted water, detect chemicals in the environment, and protect surfaces from rust and mold.

I am a synthetic biologist who studies engineered living materials – substances made from living cells that have a variety of functions. In my recently published research, I programmed bacteria to form living materials that can not only be modified for different applications, but are also quick and easy to produce.

From living cells to usable materials

Like human cells, bacteria contain DNA that provides the instructions to build proteins. Bacterial DNA can be modified to instruct the cell to build new proteins, including ones that don’t exist in nature. Researchers can even control exactly where these proteins will be located within the cell.

Because engineered living materials are made of living cells, they can be genetically engineered to perform a broad variety of functions, almost like programming a cellphone with different apps. For example, researchers can turn bacteria into sensors for environmental pollutants by modifying them to change color in the presence of certain molecules. Researchers have also used bacteria to create limestone particles, the chemical used to make Styrofoam and living photovoltaics, among others.

Living organisms can be used to “grow” materials to make clothes and furniture.

A primary challenge for engineered living materials has been figuring out how to induce them to produce a matrix, or substances surrounding the cell, that allows researchers to control the physical properties of the final material, such as its viscosity, elasticity and stiffness. To address this, my team and I created a system to encode this matrix in the bacteria’s DNA.

We modified the DNA of the bacteria Caulobacter crescentus so that the bacterial cells would produce on their surfaces a matrix made of large amounts of elastic proteins. These elastic proteins have the ability to bind to each other and form hydrogels, a type of material that can retain large amounts of water.

When two genetically modified bacterial cells come in close proximity, these proteins come together and keep the cells attached to each other. By surrounding each cell with this sticky, elastic material, bacterial cells will cluster together to form a living slime.

Furthermore, we can modify the elastic proteins to change the properties of the final material. For example, we could turn bacteria into hard construction materials that have the ability to self-repair in the event of damage. Alternatively, we could turn bacteria into soft materials that could be used as fillers in products.

The living material advantage

Usually, creating multifunctional materials is extremely difficult, due in part to very expensive processing costs. Like a tree growing from a seed, living materials, on the other hand, grow from cells that have minimal nutrient and energy requirements. Their biodegradability and minimal production requirements allow for sustainable and economical production.

The technology to make living materials is unsophisticated and cheap. It only takes a shaking incubator, proteins and sugars to grow a multifunctional, high-performing material from bacteria. The incubator is just a metal or plastic box that keeps the temperature at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius), which is much lower than a conventional home oven, and shakes the cells at speeds slower than a blender.

Transforming bacteria into living materials is also a quick process. My team and I were able to grow our bacterial living materials in about 24 hours. This is pretty fast compared to the manufacturing process of other materials, including living materials like wood that can take years to produce.

As shown in this video of Caulobacter crescentus colonizing a surface, bacteria multiply very quickly and very easily.

Moreover, our living bacterial slime is easy to transport and store. It can survive in a jar at room temperature for up to three weeks and placed back into a fresh medium to regrow. This could lower the cost of future technology based on these materials.

Lastly, engineered living materials are an environmentally friendly technology. Because they are made of living cells, they are biocompatible, or nontoxic, and biodegradable, or naturally decomposable.

Next steps

There are still some aspects of our bacterial living material that need to be clarified. For example, we don’t know exactly how the proteins on the bacterial cell surface interact with each other, or how strongly they bind to each other. We also don’t know exactly how many protein molecules are required to keep cells together.

Answering these questions will enable us to further customize living materials with desired qualities for different functions.

Next, I’m planning to explore growing different types of bacteria as living materials to expand the applications they can be used for. Some types of bacteria are better than others for different purposes. For example, some bacteria survive best in specific environments, such as the human body, soil or fresh water. Some, on the other hand, can adapt to different external conditions, like varying temperature, acidity and salinity.

By having many types of bacteria to choose from, researchers can further customize the materials they can create.

Sara Molinari, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Synthetic Biology, Rice University

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

The Great Lakes are awash in plastic. Can robots and drones help?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

These remote-control devices raise the profile about the growing problem of plastics in the lakes that provide one-fifth of the world’s freshwater.

At Brownfields conference, Worker Training grantees discuss Justice40

Read the full story at Environmental Factor.

The National Brownfields Training Conference in Oklahoma City provided an opportunity for the NIEHS Environmental Career Worker Training Program (ECWTP) to showcase its grantees, review progress, and discuss next steps of the White House’s Justice40 initiative, Aug. 17. (See first sidebar for more on brownfields.)

Justice40 guides federal agencies to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of investments in climate change, clean energy, affordable housing, clean water, workforce development, and pollution remediation to disadvantaged communities.

ECWTP is a unique training program within the NIEHS Worker Training Program. The Brownfields 2022 meeting came two months after ECWTP was selected to participate in Justice40. Funding for ECWTP came with $4.25 million in support, with a focus on key Justice40 training goals.

Plant-based material can remediate PFAS, new research suggests

Read the full story in Environmental Factor.

A novel technology that can efficiently bind to and break down per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment was developed by scientists at Texas A&M Agrilife Research with support from an NIEHS Superfund Research Program individual research grant.

The new approach uses a plant-based material that adsorbs PFAS and microbial fungi that literally eat up the so-called “forever chemicals.” The findings, which were published July 28 in Nature Communications, could provide a powerful solution for finally getting rid of these contaminants.

This federal program helped clean up the Great Lakes. Could it work for the Mississippi River?

Read the full story from New Orleans Public Radio.

Flooding is happening with more frequency and lasting longer, changing floodplain habitats. Invasive species are working their way further up the river and into its tributaries. And despite efforts to curb pollution running off land and into the river, the dead zone where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico still persists.

Advocates for the river are hoping that a proposed federal funding program, modeled after an effort to clean up the Great Lakes, could change that trajectory.

The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) was introduced last June by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from the Twin Cities. It’s based on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which launched in 2010.