Microscopic organisms known as extremophiles inhabit some of the last places on Earth you might expect to find life, from the extreme pressures of the ocean floor to freezing ice caps. Understanding how these microbes survive by interacting with different metals and gases is opening up new knowledge about Earth’s elements and their potential uses.
A circular bioeconomy – which turns renewable biological resources and waste streams into new products – is at the heart of the EU’s efforts to slash its carbon emissions while also maintaining economic growth. But what does a bioeconomy look like and how do we get there?
Since the early 1950s, humans have produced more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic – the weight of around a billion elephants. About 60% of that plastic has ended up in a landfill or in the natural environment, according to the UN Environment Programme, but that pattern may start to change as repair and recycling technology gathers pace.
A bird flaps its wings, glides using air currents and then smoothly descends to perch on a pole. But this is not just any bird, it’s a robot bird. And robots like these could in the next decade be used to respond to emergencies or to hunt down drones posing a threat to safety or security.
Common medicines that have passed through patients' bodies are ending up in the environment, but the threat many of them pose to wildlife and human health still needs to be determined. It may even be possible to recover some of these life-saving compounds so they can be reused.
Governments who build defences against rising seas can actually increase their citizens’ risk of being flooded – if they fail to take account of the ‘safe development paradox’, according to a flood defence expert.
Studies of ancient beaches and fossilised coral reefs suggest sea levels have the potential to rise far more quickly than models currently predict, according to geologists who have been studying past periods of warming.
At 03:34 local time on 27 February 2010, Chile was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in a century. The shock triggered a tsunami, which devastated coastal communities. The combined events killed more than 500 people. So powerful was the shaking that, by one NASA estimate, it shifted Earth’s axis of spin by a full 8 cm.
Researchers are investigating links between microbes and rare earth elements.
We asked five young bioeconomy researchers to set out their vision.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.