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Scientists Have Found a New Bacteria That Eats Plastic

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Japanese researchers have found a bacteria that appears to have evolved to consume PET, a common polymer used in plastics, New Scientist reports. The discovery could be used to develop new ways to tackle the earth's growing plastic waste problem.

Some plastics can take between 450 and 1000 years to decompose, but items made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) stick around for much longer. PET plastic never biodegrades, which is what makes the discovery of this new bacteria, dubbed Ideonella sakaiensis, so remarkable. According to the study recently published in Science, it took the organisms six weeks to break down a thumbnail-sized sliver of PET at 30° C in lab tests. To degrade the material, I. sakaiensis latches on with its thread-like appendages. It uses just two enzymes to break down the PET into its environmentally-friendly chemical components, which it then makes into a meal.

Researchers stumbled upon the bacteria while studying the microbes living on discarded PET products the researchers had salvaged. The team believes the bacteria consumes PET alone, and the fact that these plastics have been around for less than 80 years suggests they evolved this adaptation relatively recently.

Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing a total of 269,000 tons, are estimated to be clogging up our planet's oceans. The scientists are hoping their discovery could inspire new ways of dealing with plastic pollution, possibly through the use of genetic engineering. While six weeks is a long time to spend chowing down on one piece of plastic, transferring I. sakaiensis's enzyme-producing genes to E. coli bacteria might help to speed up the process. You can read the full report in the March 11 issue of Science.

[h/t New Scientist]

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]

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