Bacteria-Basted Supertrees Are Sucking Pollution From Our Waste Sites

Scientists scored a special strain of bacteria that breaks down hazardous waste. Now the race is on to find the gene that made it happen

Photo by Jose Antonio Alba/Pixabay.

Probiotics: They’re not just for your kombucha anymore.

When it comes to public health, infection and pollution often pose similar problems. They can move fast, resist treatment, and cost a lot of money to find a cure. But thanks to some inventive bioscience, there’s a new way to turn bacteria to our advantage in the fight against environmental degradation.

There are two heroes to this ecological story: University of Washington microbiologist Sharon Doty and a strain of Enterobacter by the name of PDN3. Years ago, Doty and her team wanted to see if they could genetically engineer more robust results from the poplar tree, which is sometimes used to naturally drain away a poisonous industrial byproduct called TCE.

Trouble is, the use of genetically modified plants requires an environmental impact study that drags on too long to encourage their use. Doty routed around the mandate, saturating saplings in PDN3 bacteria and planting them beside ordinary poplars at several hazardous Bay Area Superfund sites.

Then, the hard work of waiting began.

Stopping underground contaminants from fouling water and soil is one of the most pressing challenges facing environmental scientists. The EPA has fast-tracked 21 hazardous sites “for immediate, intense action,” including several locations where groundwater is in danger of becoming too polluted for human consumption.

The task can also be one of the most taxing. One residential site in Indiana flagged for cleanup recently saw its price tag quadruple — from some $23 million to almost 85 million — as investigators determined pollutants were more widespread than first believed.

When extreme contamination threatens drinking water, time and money pressure can become downright prohibitive. Bioremediation machines that fully reduce carcinogen levels to safety can cost up to $3 million just to install.

But now, Doty’s results are in, and they could change everything. Because of a gene inside PDN3, the saturated poplars grew into thicker, healthier trees — while simultaneously dropping the TCE count in their area below the level deemed safe for drinking water by the EPA. Now, it’s all about finding the magic gene, which could rescue imperiled communities far faster than ever before.

Bottoms up, trees.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet