April 14, 2017

Solutions to Electronic Waste, a Plastic-Degrading Breakthrough and a New Cancer Drug

By Grace Carr
Freezing Offers Solution to Electronic Waste

Despite advances in recycling, millions of tons of electronic waste still end up in landfills. Reusable materials go to waste for want of cost-effective ways to recover them. More than 46 million tons of e-waste were produced world-wide in 2014, but only 15% was formally collected for recycling and safe disposal. Now scientists have come up with technology aimed at improving the economics of reclaiming valuable metals and other materials used to make circuit boards. The scientists hope that their lab techniques can be scaled up commercially into an industrial process that makes e-waste recycling more profitable. The process essentially involved making metals extremely cold and then pulverizing them. The new technique is also flexible enough to work on any type of circuit board and still recover the reusable parts. This approach is very different from the techniques currently used for harvesting metals that mostly rely on chemicals or heat, requiring lots of energy.


Chinese Startup Emerges as Biotech Innovator

A new cancer drug, derived from the ovary cells of Chinese hamsters, was discovered by a six-year-old startup on the outskirts of Shanghai - Innovent Biologics. China is emerging as a major producer of important new medicines: biotech drugs. It now boasts the second-largest number of clinical trials involving biologic treatments after the United States. China is working to overcome a reputation for poor quality by becoming an innovator and global producer of complex products. Under pressure from a shrinking pool of patent-protected biotech drugs, global drug makers are increasingly turning outward to find new breakthroughs. As part of a push to transform the homegrown drug industry, Beijing has given vast sums of money to Chinese drug manufacturers. Some Chinese startups are advancing to the riskier business of creating biologics that haven’t been tested on humans before.

Plastic-Eating Fungus Helps Solve Garbage Problem

A recent study by Chinese researchers has identified a novel fungus capable of degrading polyurethane plastics. Aspergillus tubingensis fungus was isolated by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has been found to break the chemical bonds between plastic molecules or polymers through activity of its enzymes. Plastic waste is difficult to decompose, pollutes soil and water, and poses risks to human health. Thus, this new source of fungal biodegradation is an important way to treat pollution caused by synthetic plastics. The efficiency of degradation is affected by various factors, including PH, temperature, and the types of the medium used. It will take researchers some time to figure out the ideal conditions for the rapid growth of the fungus to help solve the plastic garbage problem, but this new breakthrough is certainly an exciting start.