Plastic-eating bacteria, bad 'good' cholesterol and other news you may have missed this week

Other news includes a study on what enabled humans to develop speech and an attempt to sanction fishing above committed limits in European seas

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 11 March 2016

Stone tools helped our ancestors develop smaller jaws and teeth

A new study has found that the adoption of simple stone tools to slice meat by hominins (upright apes) made chewing raw meat easy and allowed our ancestors to develop physical features required for speech. The study, published in the journal Nature, states that by slicing tough meat and pounding vegetables, hominins were able to reduce the time and effort spent on chewing foods, rendering their big teeth and jaws less useful and favouring an evolutionary change in their size. A smaller snout resulted in maneuverable lips required for forming words and helped balance the head while running. The researchers have prioritised the role of these tools in making meat easier to digest because access to cooking became more common only 500,000 years ago.

Researchers discover plastic-eating bacteria

In a discovery that could hold the key to safe degradation of poly(ethylene terephthalate) or PET plastics, a team of Japanese researchers, led by Shosuke Yoshida from the Kyoto Institute of Technology, has found specialised bacteria which produces plastic-eating enzymes. The team collected debris samples from outside a PET recycling plant and found a distinct microbial consortium in one of them. The bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis, from the group was found to produce two enzymes which could break down PET. The researchers say the discovery could provide a viable bioremediation strategy to deal with the countless tonnes of plastic that pose a serious risk to the environment. Their study was published in the journal Science.

Fishing limits in Baltic Sea could be rendered ineffective by exemptions, reveals leaked document

A leaked European commission proposal accessed by the Guardian has revealed plans to add exemptions to catch limits in the Baltic Sea. In an article, the Guardian has highlighted that these catch limits were to become mandatory by 2020 and were part of a commitment to restore fish stocks to healthy levels by then. If the proposal goes ahead, it would allow fishing well above the recommended levels. The Baltic Sea is already suffering from low fish stocks. Members of the European Parliament and non-profit organisations have expressed concerns that approving this proposal would pave the way for similar proposals in the North Sea and other seas. Overfishing is a critical global problem with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stating that 29 per cent of the world's assessed stocks are presently overfished.

HDL cholesterol may not protect against heart disease, finds new study

A genetic study, published in the journal Science, has shown that HDL or "good" cholesterol may not protect against heart disease, going against the decades-old medical guideline that HDL cholesterol protects the heart while LDL cholesterol leads to blocked arteries. The study compared the genomes of 852 people with high levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in their blood against those of a control group of 1,156 people with low HDL cholesterol. The researchers found that people with high HDL levels were not only not protected against heart disease but were also at greater risk for coronary heart disease. This study has added to collecting evidence against our understanding of HDL cholesterol.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.