Maastricht Economic and social Research and  training centre on Innovation and Technology

Africa bridging the digital divides: New policy note
Information and communication technology is developing rapidly in Africa – but there are worrying trends, such as a growing digital divide between men and women, and between urban and rural areas. These are the basic findings of a new policy note by Prof. Samia Nour, an affiliated researcher at UNU-MERIT.

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  • Plastic-eating worms could inspire waste-degrading tools
    Humans produce more than 300m metric tons of plastic every year. Almost half of that winds up in landfills, and up to 12m metric tons pollute the oceans. So far there is no sustainable way to get rid of it, but a new study suggests an answer may lie in the stomachs of some worms.

    Researchers in Spain and England have found that the larvae of the greater wax moth can efficiently degrade polyethylene, which accounts for 40% of plastics. The team left 100 wax worms on a commercial polyethylene shopping bag for 12 hours, and the worms consumed and degraded about 92 milligrams, or roughly 3%, of it. To confirm that the larvae's chewing alone was not responsible for the polyethylene breakdown, the researchers ground some grubs into a paste and applied it to plastic films. Fourteen hours later the films had lost 13% of their mass, presumably broken down by enzymes from the worms' stomachs.

    When inspecting the degraded plastic films, the team also found traces of ethylene glycol, a product of polyethylene breakdown, signalling true biodegradation.

    The larvae's ability to break down their dietary staple-beeswax-also allows them to degrade plastic. The next step will be to pinpoint the cause of the breakdown. Is it an enzyme produced by the worm itself or by its gut microbes? The team hope the findings might one day help to break down plastics in landfills, as well as those scattered throughout the ocean.

    Scientific American / Current Biology    June 08, 2017