Sunday, August 6, 2017

ICYMI: So this Worm Eats Plastic and Poops Antifreeze

Sounds perfect for Harbin.
From Quartz, April 24:

Scientists have discovered a worm that eats plastic bags and leaves behind antifreeze
The wax worm, a caterpillar typically used for fishing bait and known for damaging beehives by eating their wax comb, has now been observed munching on a different material: plastic bags.
Scientist Federica Bertocchini of the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria in Spain first noticed the wax worms’ plastic-eating skills when she was cleaning up a wax worm infestation in one of the beehives she keeps at home. She put the worms in a plastic bag, tied it closed, and put the bag in a room of her house while she finished cleaning the hive. When she returned to the room, “they were everywhere,” Bertocchini said in a statement. They’d escaped by chewing their way out of the bag, and fast.

“This project began there and then,” she said. In a paper published in Current Biology on Monday (April 24), Bertocchini and her colleagues described 100 wax worms chewing through a polyethylene shopping bag—the kind that people discard at a rate of 1 trillion per year globally—in around 40 minutes. After 12 hours, the bag was significantly shredded.

To make sure the worms weren’t just chewing through the plastic but actually eating it, the researchers pureed some worms and left the paste in contact with the plastic; after 14 hours, about 13% of the plastic was gone, suggesting that some compound in the worm’s digestive system was truly digesting the bag. The researchers also scanned the chewed-up bags for residue, and found ethylene glycol—the main compound in antifreeze—was left behind....MORE
Harbin has a pollution problem.
From time to time chemical plants upstream of the city explode and stuff and dump all kinds of gunk into the Songhua river:


The image shows an aerial view of the front of polluted water of Songhua River reaching Harbin, 
capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Nov. 24, 2005.

Okay, truth be told, there was only the one explosion but it was benzene, a nasty carcinogen that came floating downstream. There are also plenty of non-kaboom! sources of pollution though.

Harbin and the surrounding environs are an industrial powerhouse and I'm sure there would be stuff for the worms to nosh on:

In this photo taken on Wednesday, July 28, 2010, people look at the chemical barrels 
floating on the Songhua River after they were washed away by the flood ...

Plus, the winters can get a bit nippy extreme with record lows/highs of -38°C and +39°C (-36.4°F/102.2°F)
There are other places that are hotter and colder but in the U.S. the only major city I can think of with as wide a range is Minneapolis with record lows/highs of −34°F/108°F (−36.6°C/42°C).
Maybe they could us the worm as well.