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Team Led by Indian-Origin Scientist Converts Plant Matter Into Chemicals

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A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Lignin, a tough plant matter, is converted into chemicals. Pixabay
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A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.

The technology converts tough plant matter, called lignin, for wider use of the energy source and making it cost competitive.

“For years, we have been researching cost-effective ways to break down lignin and convert it into valuable platform chemicals,” Sandia bioengineer Seema Singh said.

“We applied our understanding of natural lignin degraders to E. coli because that bacterium grows fast and can survive harsh industrial processes,” she added in the work published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”.

Lignin is the component of plant cell walls that gives them their incredible strength. It is brimming with energy but getting to that energy is so costly and complex that the resulting biofuel can’t compete economically with other forms of transportation energy.

A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Scientists successfully convert plant matter into chemicals. Pixabay

Once broken down, lignin has other gifts to give in the form of valuable platform chemicals that can be converted into nylon, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other valuable products.

Singh and her team have solved three problems with turning lignin into platform chemicals: cost, toxicity and speed.

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Engineering solutions like these, which overcome toxicity and efficiency issues have the potential to make biofuel production economically viable.

“Now we can work on producing greater quantities of platform chemicals, engineering pathways to new end products, and considering microbial hosts other than E. coli,” Singh (IANS)

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Here’s Why Man-made Pesticides Affect Marine Animals More

The study calls for monitoring our waterways to learn more about the impact of pesticides and agricultural run-off on marine mammals.

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Marine animals are more vulnerable to man-made pesticides. Flickr

Marine mammals such as dolphins, manatees, seals and whales, which evolved to make water their primary habitat, lost the ability to make a gene that defends humans and other land-dwelling mammals from the neurotoxic effects of a popular human-made pesticide, a new study has revealed.

The researchers found that the marine mammals lost the gene Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) that effectively defends humans and other terrestrial mammals from organophosphates — a group of man-made insecticides.

PON1 potentially reduces cellular damage caused by unstable oxygen atoms and also protects us from organophosphates that kills by disrupting neurological systems.

Whales and dolphins lost the gene PON1 soon after they split from their common ancestor with hippopotamuses 53 million years ago; manatees lost it after their split from their common ancestor with elephants 64 million years ago.

Marine life
Whales and dolphins lost the gene PON1. VOA

But some seals likely lost PON1 function more recently, at most 21 million years ago and possibly in very recent times.

“The big question is, why did they lose function at PON1 in the first place? It’s hard to tell whether it was no longer necessary or whether it was preventing them from adapting to a marine environment,” said lead author Wynn K. Meyer, postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

“We know that ancient marine environments didn’t have organophosphate pesticides, so we think the loss might instead be related to PON1’s role in responding to the extreme oxidative stress generated by long periods of diving and rapid resurfacing,” Meyer added.

For the study, appearing in the journal Science, the team analysed DNA sequences from five species of marine mammals and 53 species of terrestrial mammals and reacted their blood samples with an organophosphate by-product.

 Marine Mammals lost the ability that defends humans and other land-dwelling mammals from the neurotoxic effects of a popular human-made pesticide.
Marine Animals lost the ability that defends humans and other land-dwelling mammals from the neurotoxic effects of a popular human-made pesticide.

The blood did not break down the organophosphate by-product the way it did in land mammals, indicating that unless a different biological mechanism is protecting the marine mammals, they would be susceptible to organophosphate poisoning — a form of poisoning that results from the build-up of chemical signals in the body, especially the brain.

Also Read: European Countries Bans Bee-Killing Pesticides

The study calls for monitoring our waterways to learn more about the impact of pesticides and agricultural run-off on marine mammals.(IANS)