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LEGO Will Launch The Company's First Sustainable Bricks Later This Year

Governments and corporations worldwide are on a mission to tackle our addiction to plastic. The Queen is banning single-use plastics on royal estates, the Netherlands is introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles, and the EU has launched an urgent plan to ensure all packaging is reusable or recyclable as soon as 2020. In Kenya, things are even more extreme – producers and distributors of single-use plastic bags could land jail time or a $40,000 fine. Now, the LEGO Group – the brand that made its name selling little chunks of plastic – is getting in on the action. The family-owned company will be launching the first sustainable LEGO bricks later this year. “At the LEGO Group we want to make a positive impact on the world around us, and are working hard to make great play products for children using sustainable materials,” said Tim Brooks, senior director for Environmental Sustainability at LEGO. “This is a great first step in our ambitious commitment of making all LEGO bricks using sustainable materials.” This decision is part of a company-wide policy to transition to sustainable materials in core products and packaging by 2030, a mission the brand invested 1 billion Danish krone ($165 million) to back in 2015. To classify as sustainable, the LEGO Group says a material must have a smaller footprint than the material it replaces in terms of various different environmental and social areas, including fossil fuel use, human rights, and climate change. These particular bricks will be made from botanical materials, including trees, bushes, and leaves. The plastic is a soft, durable, flexible type called polyethylene, which is made from sugarcane. All well and good you might say, but what about the quality of the product? “LEGO products have always been about providing high quality play experiences giving every child the chance to shape their own world through inventive play,” Brooks added. “Children and parents will not notice any difference in the quality or appearance of the new elements, because plant-based polyethylene has the same properties as conventional polyethylene.” “It is essential that companies in each industry find ways to responsibly source their product materials and help ensure a future where people, nature, and the economy thrive,” Alix Grabowski, a senior program officer at WWF, who partners with LEGO, said. “The LEGO Group’s decision to pursue sustainably sourced bio-based plastics represents an incredible opportunity to reduce dependence on finite resources, and their work with the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance will allow them to connect with other companies to continue to think creatively about sustainability.” Last year, it announced it was running entirely from renewable energy three years ahead of schedule. (They even built a wind turbine to celebrate.) Let’s hope other companies follow in its footsteps.
A truly bizarre subterranean plant from the rainforests of Malaysia has been rediscovered after it was presumed extinct for the last 151 years.
The plant was first discovered by an Italian botanist called Odoardo Beccari in the year the US Civil War officially ended (1866) during an expedition to the Gunung Matang massif in western Sarawak, Malaysia. He recorded, drew, and described the new species as Thismia neptunis a couple of years later, but since this initial observation, no one has seen the plant since. That is until January of last year, when biologists from the Crop Research Institution in the Czech Republic were exploring the same region of rainforest and stumbled across a T. neptunis flowering in the leaf litter, although not many would know what they were looking at. The first people to have recorded the plant in over 150 years, they were also the first to ever photograph it. Their discovery is published in Phototaxa. It might not look like it, but this is the flower of T. neptunis. Sochor et al. 2018
Belonging to a group known as mycoheterotrophs, not much about them makes them sound like plants. Spending their entire lives underground, they have done away with photosynthesis altogether, having lost both their leaves and chlorophyll. Instead, they parasitize fungi, which are living in symbiotic relationships with other, above-ground plants, exchanging water and nutrients for food. This means that in a weird, roundabout way, T. neptunis is getting its nutrition from photosynthesizing plants. By their very nature, mycoheterotrophic plants are a pretty cryptic species. Tending to live in more tropical environments, and with most of their structure underground, the plants only appear above soil when they flower – and even these look super odd and could be easily mistaken for an insect. Only in bloom for a few weeks at a time, and even then not every single year, it is easy to see why so little is known about the group or why many species have only been seen once. For this reason, it is near impossible to declare any of them extinct with much confidence, or to figure out just how common or rare one species might be. In fact, some evidence suggests the plants might be much more common than is generally assumed, and it is not unusual for some species to be rediscovered after a pretty long period.
But even among these weird organisms, 151 years is a good whack of time to remain hidden in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia.
The boiling hot, acidic conditions of Yellowstone’s hot springs might not seem like a place for life to survive, but surprisingly it thrives there. And with this life, a microbial ecosystem has developed, including viruses that prey on the bacteria, archaea, and algae. A new study delving into these extreme viruses has uncovered how they endure these conditions, and could help in the development of nanobots to deliver drugs to cancerous tissue. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on the Acidianus tailed spindle virus, or simply Acidianus for short. There are three common shapes for viruses to take, either spherical, cylindrical, or lemon-shaped. While the structures of the first two have been well studied, the construction of the lemon-shaped viruses remain less well understood.
Acidianus falls into this latter category, meaning that by studying the virus that makes a living in Yellowstone’s hot springs, the researchers have been able to uncover a completely novel way in which viruses operate in building particles and interacting with host cells. “We have understood for many years the principles for the construction of cylindrical and spherical viruses, but this is the first time we have really understood how the third class of viruses is put together,” explains co-author Martin Lawrence in a statement. The ability to study these infectious agents has been vastly helped by the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which has sparked something of a revolution among microbiologists. The new imaging technique, which won the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry, allows scientists to not only picture proteins and structures, but even the individual atoms of which they are made. For this latest study, the technique – in combination with X-ray crystallography – allowed the team of scientists to figure out exactly how the shell of Acidianus is created. “We now understand how this third kind of virus shell is assembled and the dynamic process it uses to carry and then eventually eject the DNA that it is carrying,” says Lawrence. “This understanding could potentially be adapted for technological uses.” The Acidianus virus makes its “remarkable transition” from lemon-shaped into long, thin cylinders when it interacts with host cells via a structure that Lawrence describes as akin to bricks linked by ropes. This allows the virus to rapidly change shape when necessary. Not only that, but when the ropes slide against each other, they “squirt the DNA from the virus into the cell that the virus is infecting.” The researchers think that by understanding how the viruses manage these shape-shifting moves, as well as how they inject their DNA in such extreme environments, it could inform the development of nanobots that precisely inject drugs into specific sites of delivery.

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