Scientists in China develop sustainable and biodegradable plastic using salmon sperm and vegetable oil

Scientists in China have developed a sustainable and biodegradable plastic from salmon sperm and vegetable oil. — Reuters pic
Scientists in China have developed a sustainable and biodegradable plastic from salmon sperm and vegetable oil. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 — Scientists in China have developed a sustainable and biodegradable plastic derived from salmon sperm and vegetable oil.

Using strands of DNA from the sperm of salmon are extracted, researchers from Tianjin University dissolved the genetic matter in water with ionomers, a type of polymer commonly found in adhesives, to produce a gel that’s pliable enough to be moulded into various forms.

The material is then freeze-dried to set the shape, The Times reported.

The experiment led to the creation of a rumpled-looking mug, as well as puzzle pieces, all made of what they call “DNA-based plastic”.

Both DNA and plastics are made of polymers, which may be naturally occurring or synthetic — the former abundantly available in plants, animals and bacteria, and the latter relying on petroleum oil or fossil fuels.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society found that the result looks and feels somewhat like plastic but produces less than 5 per cent of the carbon emissions generated during typical polystyrene plastic manufacturing.

Lead researcher Dayong Yang said to their knowledge, DNA plastics are the most environmentally sustainable materials of any known plastics.

As plastic products are often used to contain liquid, researchers suggested that such bioplastic vessels would have to be treated with a waterproofing material, which could diminish its recyclability. 

Other useful applications for the substance include electronics and other forms of packaging.

Their research comes as scientists scramble to find solutions to reduce plastic waste. 

In a 2019 report by the Plastic Pollution Coalition, more than 30 million tonnes of plastic are discarded annually, only 8 percent of which gets recycled in the US. 

Much of the rest ends up in landfills, while another 1 to 2 million tonnes is littered on land and in water, where it may be broken down into microplastics, and later consumed by animals and humans alike.

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