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Scientists Are Learning How To Use Bacteria to Produce Specialty Biochemicals

Scientists Are Learning How To Use Bacteria to Produce Specialty Biochemicals

Think about all of the food that ends up in your household trash or down your garbage disposal. Now imagine the vast amount of food waste like coffee grounds or tomato pomace generated by big food manufacturers.

From seeds and stems to grains and fibers, these manufacturers are generating tremendous volumes of food waste every day. Manufacturers have learned that they can recycle, reuse, and compost some organic waste, but it costs money to store and transport it.

In other words, going green isn’t exactly a financial boon.

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Until now, that is.

Thanks to advances in biotechnology, organic biomass waste can now be transformed into natural versions of valuable specialty chemicals used as flavorings, fragrances, and colorings, replacing the petroleum-based chemicals that are currently found in over 95% of everyday products.

Consumers are demanding an alternative to petroleum-derived chemicals. This cry has created a desperate need for manufacturers to satisfy the requirement, making naturally-derived chemicals an incredibly lucrative industry.

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“Chemicals have traditionally been made through non-eco-friendly processes that are anything but natural—in fact, they’re typically derived from petroleum,” said James Stephens, co-founder, and president of Blue Marble Biomaterials, which manufactures all-natural biochemicals. “Blue Marble has developed and deployed technologies that produce drop-in replacements that are kosher, vegan, certified GMO-free, and compliant with stringent U.S. and E.U. labeling standards.”

So how exactly does this technology work? Let’s explore in more detail exactly how businesses are converting their biomass waste to valuable specialty biochemicals to reap big profits:

Bacteria break down organic waste into commercially valuable natural chemicals

At the heart of the biotech advances that have enabled this breakthrough is bacteria. Scientists have figured out how to use certain types of bacteria from nature under certain controlled conditions to break down organic waste and transform it into highly desired portfolios of natural chemicals, including esters, carboxylic acids, thioesters, and sulfur compounds. These specialty biochemicals are used as flavoring agents for foods, to add color to beverages like soda pop, to give texture to your granola bar, and so forth.

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Scientists are learning how to use bacteria to produce more and more specialty biochemicals

Each specialty biochemical produced from organic waste is made by feeding certain types of raw materials to certain types of bacteria. For example, Blue Marble Biomaterials this year created an all-natural, vegan bacon flavoring by repurposing organic waste like coffee grounds and the discarded skin, pulp, seeds, and stems of tomatoes and grapes. “It’s the flavor and aroma of bacon—from plants,” as Colby Underwood, Blue Marble co-CEO, and chief business officer puts it. All of these biochemical creations are the result of years of research and testing; the production processes are patented and top-secret.

Biochemical startups are teaming up with companies that produce lots of organic waste

Any industry that produces large sums of organic waste–including the agriculture, food, beverage, and forestry industry–is a great candidate to team up with a waste-to-value company like Blue Marble. Blue Marble can embed its operations inside the facilities of existing food and beverage companies. Through this mutually beneficial arrangement, Blue Marble is able to maintain future access to a consistent supply of raw materials, which are converted on site. The final specialty biochemical products can be sold for top dollar.

The market for natural biochemicals is exploding

Chemicals are traditionally produced by large corporations like Dow Chemical, where they’re derived from petroleum. These so-called “petrochemicals” end up in an endless supply of consumer goods, from chewing gum to dog food to skin creams to clothes. However, as consumers increasingly demand natural products and to know the sourcing of the materials that make up these products, petrochemicals just can’t cut it. By contrast, biochemicals made from all-natural bacterial processes are organic and can be fully sourced. Hence, the demand for these chemicals is exploding.

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These processes are eco-friendly

Not only are the end-product specialty chemicals all-natural, but the processes used to make them are eco-friendly as well. Biochemicals made from organic waste are produced using “green chemistry” processes. These processes provide a sustainable alternative to traditional chemical manufacturing, as they reduce environmental pollution and curb the production and use of hazardous substances.

As the demand for eco-friendly, all-natural chemicals explodes, more and more businesses are realizing there’s untapped monetary value in their organic waste. The natural alternatives to commonly petroleum-derived chemicals are made from this waste, and they are kosher, vegan, organic, certified GMO-free, and compliant with stringent international labeling standards for natural products.

But this isn’t the end. Scientists are developing new pathways and technologies orbiting around how to harness the power of bacteria to produce more and more types of these lucrative biochemicals.

In other words, natural bacon flavoring isn’t the only product that will be affected. It is only one of millions of products that will be transformed by switching from environmentally-damaging chemicals derived from crude oil to natural, sustainable versions of these chemicals that have a positive impact on our planet–and our livelihood.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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