How Shrimp Shells Could Help Save The Environment
Harvard scientists have created a bioplastic using silk protein and a commonly-found organic substance that gives the shells their strength. The substance, shrilk, biodegrades in a matter of weeks, and its residue encourages plant growth.
Kecia Lynn has worked as a technical writer, editor, software developer, arts administrator, summer camp director, and television host. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she is currently living in Iowa City and working on her first novel.
What's the Latest Development?
Scientists at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have succeeded in creating a bioplastic that's cheap to make and robust enough to be used in mass manufacturing of 3D shapes, such as toys, as well as in lighter-weight items, such as trash bags and diapers. "Shrilk" gets its name from shrimp shells -- which contain chitin, a tough molecule also found in insects' armor -- and silk protein. Unlike current bioplastics, which do not fully degrade, shrilk breaks down in a matter of weeks and in doing so releases nutrients that encourage plants to grow.
What's the Big Idea?
The dangers posed to the environment by conventionally-made plastics are well-known by now, and despite many attempts to change people's habits, only a fraction of the plastic produced and used ever makes it to a recycling center. The search for environmentally healthier alternatives has intensified in recent years. Wyss director Donald E. Ingber says their new manufacturing method demonstrates that shrilk "can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications."
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