New study: Microplastics found in all beached dolphins, whales, and seals

"Our findings are not good news," says Brendan Godley, of the University of Exeter.

  • 50 beached dolphins, whales, and seals were tested in Great Britain.
  • All had microplastics in their digestive tract — mostly in the stomach.
  • 84 percent were synthetic plastics; of those, 60 percent were nylon.

Scientists studied the bodies of dolphins, whales, and seals that washed ashore in the United Kingdom. Every single one of them had microplastics in them.

Nature.com

Sites where the animals had washed ashore

The University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined the bodies of the animals and made the discovery. In all, 50 animals were studied, and they represented 10 distinct species of seals, whales, and dolphins.

"It is disconcerting that we have found microplastic in the gut of every single animal we have investigated in this study," said Dr. Penelope Lindeque, from PML.

The vast majority of the microplastics — 84 percent — were "synthetic" fibers, which come from washing synthetic clothing, fishing nets, and — gasp! — toothbrushes. The most prevalent particle type was nylon, at about 60 percent.

Nature.com

Types of microplastics found.

The rest were fragments (defined as smaller than 5 millimeters, or about 0.20 inches) from plastic bottles and other consumer packaging, runoff from tires and paint on roads, and more. Some enter the food chain via the fish that these animals feed on, such as mackerel — which have consumed the microplastics along the way themselves — in what's known as trophic transfer. In other words, not from directly ingesting plastic. Others enter the food chain when plankton eat tiny microbeads.

Previous research has led to the conclusion that organ damage is possible, depending on the animal involved and how much microplastic is consumed. Notably, pesticides are "attracted" the surfaces of plastic, which means they can build over time in the body of an animal that has ingested some of those plastics.

Scientific American

Sources of plastic that end up in the food chain.

In these cases, however, because the number of particles was relatively low, at a mean of 5.5 particles per animal, it's assumed that all would have passed through the animals. Notably, however, the stomach was the primary location of most of them, which means they linger there.

Still, this study at least sets a benchmark that future studies will build on.

"Marine mammals are ideal sentinels of our impacts on the marine environment, as they are generally long-lived and many feed high up in the food chain. Our findings are not good news," said Brendan Godley, of the University of Exeter.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
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Robot pizza delivery coming later this year from Domino's

The pizza giant Domino's partners with a Silicon Valley startup to start delivering pizza by robots.

Nuro
Technology & Innovation
  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: