E. coli bacteria engineered to eat carbon dioxide

Feat could turn bacteria into biological factories for energy and even food.

E.coli bacteria.
The bacterium Escherichia coli has been engineered to grow by consuming carbon dioxide.Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

E. coli is on a diet. Researchers have created a strain of the lab workhorse bacterium — full name Escherichia coli — that grows by consuming carbon dioxide instead of sugars or other organic molecules.

The achievement is a milestone, say scientists, because it drastically alters the inner workings of one of biology’s most popular model organisms. And in the future, CO2-eating E. coli could be used to make organic carbon molecules that could be used as biofuels or to produce food. Products made in this way would have lower emissions compared with conventional production methods, and could potentially remove the gas from the air. The work is published in Cell1 on 27 November.

“It’s like a metabolic heart transplantation,” says Tobias Erb, a biochemist and synthetic biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Plants and photosynthetic cyanobacteria — aquatic microbes that produce oxygen — use the energy from light to transform, or fix, CO2 into the carbon-containing building blocks of life, including DNA, proteins and fats. But these organisms can be hard to genetically modify, which has slowed efforts to turn them into biological factories.

By contrast, E. coli is relatively easy to engineer, and its fast growth means that changes can be quickly tested and tweaked to optimize genetic alterations. But the bacterium prefers to grow on sugars such as glucose — and instead of consuming CO2, it emits the gas as waste.

Ron Milo, a systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his team have spent the past decade overhauling E. coli’s diet. In 2016, they created2 a strain that consumed CO2, but the compound accounted for only a fraction of the organism’s carbon intake — the rest was an organic compound that the bacteria were fed, called pyruvate.

Gas diet

In the latest work, Milo and his team used a mix of genetic engineering and lab evolution to create a strain of E. coli that can get all its carbon from CO2. First, they gave the bacterium genes that encode a pair of enzymes that allow photosynthetic organisms to convert CO2 into organic carbon. Plants and cyanobacteria power this conversion with light, but that wasn’t feasible for E. coli. Instead, Milo’s team inserted a gene that lets the bacterium glean energy from an organic molecule called formate.

Even with these additions, the bacterium refused to swap its sugar meals for CO2. To further tweak the strain, the researchers cultured successive generations of the modified E. coli for a year, giving them only minute quantities of sugar, and CO2 at concentrations about 250 times those in Earth’s atmosphere. They hoped that the bacteria would evolve mutations to adapt to this new diet. After about 200 days, the first cells capable of using CO2 as their only carbon source emerged. And after 300 days, these bacteria grew faster in the lab conditions than did those that could not consume CO2.

The CO2-eating, or autotrophic, E. coli strains can still grow on sugar — and would use that source of fuel over CO2, given the choice, says Milo. Compared with normal E. coli, which can double in number every 20 minutes, the autotrophic E. coli are laggards, dividing every 18 hours when grown in an atmosphere that is 10% CO2. They are not able to subsist without sugar on atmospheric levels of CO2 — currently 0.041%.

Milo and his team hope to make their bacteria grow faster and live on lower levels of CO2. They are also trying to understand how the E. coli evolved to eat CO2: changes in just 11 genes seemed to allow the switch, and they are now working on determining how.

The work is a “milestone” and shows the power of melding engineering and evolution to improve natural processes, says Cheryl Kerfeld, a bioengineer at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Already, E. coli is used to make synthetic versions of useful chemicals such as insulin and human growth hormone. Milo says that his team’s work could expand the products the bacteria can make, to include renewable fuels, food and other substances. But he doesn’t see this happening soon.

“This is a proof-of-concept paper,” agrees Erb. “It will take a couple years until we see this organism applied.” SOURCE

 

UN Calls Global Climate Outlook ‘Bleak’

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising and the window for action closing. Still, there are some hopeful trends.

Image result for coal plant emissions
Credit: Soundplan

The world has refused to slash its collective greenhouse gas emissions, narrowing the planet’s pathway back to a safe climate.

Authors of an annual United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report published Tuesday were uncharacteristically direct in their 2019 assessment of the gap between actual and desirable emissions levels.

“The summary findings are bleak,” they write. “Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.”

How deep and how fast? Nations must halve their 2018 pollution levels by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Global emissions have risen about 1.5% a year in the last decade, plateauing between 2014 and 2016.

The new report is part of a larger trend among high-profile scientific assessments published in the last 18 months, each featuring increasingly blunt language from a community not known for it. Examples include three studies from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They addressed limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, how land is changing around the world and the effects of higher temperatures on iced areas and oceans.

This latest research—the tenth edition of the annual Emissions Gap report—is a hard-check on sentiment, said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Current policies could lead to 60 billion metric tons of climate pollution in 2030. To have a shot at staying below 1.5 degrees, that figure needs to be 25 billion tons.

“That’s easy math,” she said. “We’re double what we need to be.”

China's Coal Dependence A Challenge For Climate
Smoke billows from a coal fired power plant in Shanxi, China in 2015.  A history of heavy dependence on burning coal for energy has made China a huge source of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac

Of course, “bleak” doesn’t mean hopeless, the researchers said. Political and civic attention to climate change is increasing, led in many nations by younger citizens. Renewable energy is the cheapest source of power in much of the world and new utility-scale systems can already compete with the marginal operating costs of existing coal plants.

Countries know what they need to do, even if they’re not yet doing it. In 2009, G20 nations agreed to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, although none have actually set a deadline for doing so. Despite scientists’ pleas to zero-out emissions by mid-century, only a few nations—and none in the G20—have given the UN climate administration a timeline for achieving it.

There’s still a path to climate safety, and most of it runs through those G20 countries, since they make up almost 80% of emissions. As a group, the world’s biggest economies are likely to meet 2020 climate pledges made in 2010—though with the notable exception of, among others, the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The new report breaks out specific recommendations for seven key emitters: the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea and South Africa.

China, said the UN, should ban all new coal-fired power plants—despite last week’s news that the country is still on a coal-plant binge) and make electricity carbon-free. The U.S. should regulate power plants, introduce carbon pricing and decarbonize its buildings and transportation systems, the UN says—but the realities of domestic politics in America make that unlikely.

The Chevron Corp. Permian Trove Is Changing U.S. Shale
A pumpjack operates on an oil well in the Permian Basin near Crane, Texas, in 2018. Photographer: Bloomberg

Indeed, the report makes clear that the time for half-measures has passed.

“Incremental changes will not be enough, and there is a need for rapid and transformational action,” the authors write. Climate-proofing the global economy “will require fundamental, structural changes” along with “investments in defensive and adaptive infrastructure” and a massive shift in “values, norms, consumer culture and world views.”

Those changes will require at least $1.6 trillion in energy-sector investment annually through 2050, they estimate. That’s $48 trillion.

Astonishingly, some nations are still increasing their plans for fossil-fuel production, making an already bad situation worse. The  UNEP last week issued its first Production Gap Report, a related initiative that looks at the scale of fossil-fuel resources nations can or expect to develop. Overall, the world may produce 50% more coal, oil and gas than is compatible with a 2 degree Celsius scenario, and 120% more than a 1.5 degree scenario requires.

“The climate problem is mainly a fossil-fuel problem” rather than an emissions problem, said Peter Erickson, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute and contributor to the production-gap report. “In the long-term, it may be better to talk about it that way.”

Kenney campaign manager fined by Elections Alberta

A campaign manager for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been fined by Elections Alberta and has had his request to throw out the fine by the courts dismissed.

A campaign manager for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been fined by Elections Alberta and has had his request to throw out the fine by the courts dismissed. The failed appeal by Alan Hallman took place just days before the government shut down an office investigating election wrongdoings.

Court documents obtained by the Western Standard show Court of Queen’s Bench Justice A.L. Kirker threw out the appeal by Hallman on Nov. 13th.

Hallman – a close friend and advisor to the premier – had appealed a fine of $1,500 handed down by Elections Alberta.

Details in the document were scarce but appears to centre around Hallman handing out election pamphlets that did not meet the required legal criteria.

Kenney’s lawyer, former solicitor general Johnathon Denis argued in court the matter was simply an administrative error.

Neither side of the case asked for costs to be covered.

In a statement issued after the WS broke the story, the UCP said: “The event in question took place during the 2017 Calgary-Lougheed by-election, wherein there was a disagreement between the individual in question and an Elections Alberta official visiting the office. An administrative fine was issued against the individual. No violation was found against the candidate nor the Calgary-Lougheed UCP campaign as an entity.

“The Party considers this matter closed.”

Hallman couldn’t be reached for comment. Denis said he couldn’t speak until talking to Hallman.

The move comes days after the province passed Bill 22, which eliminated the office of the Election Commissioner and rolled it into the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Alberta.

Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner warned UCP MLAs of a potential conflict of interest in voting to fire the investigator looking into their party.

Prior to his firing, Lorne Gibson had handed out more than $210,000 in fines against people involved in Jason Kenney’s campaign to be UCP leader in 2017.

The government has said, if they decide, the electoral officer can continue with Gibson’s investigations that were ongoing.

Kenney said merging the office will save taxpayers more than $1-million over five years. SOURCE

 

Despite promise to Ontario, Ford cannot avoid pricing carbon


Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced formal plans to end the province’s cap-and-trade program, saying the measure was nothing more than a government cash grab that didn’t help the environment. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

When Ontario’s premier Doug Ford announced that “as of June the 29th, the cap and trade system, the carbon tax, they’re done.” Ford was referring not to a carbon tax (which Ontario does not have), but rather to his promise to withdraw from the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), an inter-jurisdictional cap and trade regime which currently includes Ontario Quebec and California.

Here and elsewhere, Ford has conflated “the carbon tax” and “cap and trade” in a manner that suggests the two are interchangeable. This should sound alarm bells for Ontarians, given Ford’s task was essentially to choose between the two very distinct carbon pricing systems: under the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate, any province declining to implement their own carbon pricing mechanism is subject to federal regulation on carbon.

The WCI is a cap and trade system, wherein the GHG emissions of polluting entities are limited (capped) though the limited issuance of emission allowances, and entities with allowances to spare can sell them to entities who failed to keep emissions below the cap. The result is an overall reduction in GHGs and an incentive for large emitters to curb pollution.

By contrast, a carbon tax is paid by on all fossil fuel combustion by consumers at all levels, and while it is an effective way to raise funds for investment into climate change mitigation activities, carbon taxes have not been demonstrated to reduce GHG emission in and of themselves.

By withdrawing from the WCI and declining to propose an alternative mechanism to curb GHG emissions, Ford leaves Ontario subject by default to Canada’s federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Act: a bonafide carbon tax.

The relative merits of a carbon tax vs a cap and trade regime are complex and debatable. However the very act of withdrawing from the WCI is likely to come with a high price tag for the Ontario tax payer. Ford has earmarked 30 million dollars to fight the Trudeau government on its (legally sound) right to enforce a price on carbon. But the cost of taking on Trudeau’s liberals in court is likely to be dwarfed by a bigger legal and financial battle: Ontario’s large emitters have already paid out $3 billion under the WCI, and are expected to come after the province to recuperate those funds.

While Canada may be falling short of its commitments to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement, the Pan Canadian Framework makes it clear that failing to price carbon is no longer an option in Canada. Ford’s remaining options are not between pricing carbon and not pricing it; they are between a robust existing cap and trade system and a bumpy ride towards a federally mandated carbon tax. In declining to propose his own alternative, Ford has chosen the latter. SOURCE

Canada appeals court orders tobacco firms to pay billions in damages

Image result for court judgement Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald
Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., Imperial Tobacco Canada and JTI-Macdonald Corp. must pay damages to 100,000 Quebec smokers.

A Canadian court has upheld the bulk of a decision that ordered three tobacco companies to pay billions in damages.

The judgment involves class action suits that were consolidated against Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald.

The companies had appealed a 2015 ruling in favour that ordered them to pay over C$15bn (£8.5bn; $11bn).

The plaintiffs were Quebec smokers who said the firms failed to warn them of health risks associated with smoking.

Rothmans, Benson & Hedges said on Friday it will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

JTI-Macdonald Corp said it “fundamentally disagrees” with the decision and is considering all options, including an appeal.

Plaintiffs said the firms knew since the 1950s that their product was causing cancer and other illnesses and failed to warn consumers.

The companies had argued that Canadians have had a “high awareness” of smoking health risks for over half a century and say they have been strictly regulated.

The Quebec Court of Appeal sided on Friday with a lower court decision that concluded the companies had failed to provide adequate information about the “safety defect” in their tobacco products.

This is the largest award for damages in the country‘s history and will include interest on those damages.

The two class-action lawsuits were originally filed in 1998 before they were consolidated.

Smoking rates have reduced steadily in Canada over the years and in 2017 just under 17% of Canadians smoked at least occasionally.

In recent years, US courts have ordered tobacco companies to pay large awards.

But those payouts are often reduced upon appeal.

A $28 bn (£18.3 bn) ruling against Philip Morris was reduced to $28m on appeal in 2011.

American tobacco firms agreed in 1998 to pay US states over $200 bn (£131 bn) in fines in what is the largest civil litigation suit in US history. US states have been criticised for not spending enough of the compensation on anti-smoking programmes. SOURCE

The dirty secret of capitalism — and a new way foreward

Make sure you take the time today to watch this 17 minute video!

Rising inequality and growing political instability are the direct result of decades of bad economic theory, says entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. In a visionary talk, he dismantles the mantra that “greed is good” — an idea he describes as not only morally corrosive, but also scientifically wrong — and lays out a new theory of economics powered by reciprocity and cooperation.

Government consultation shows parents overwhelmingly reject class size increase: sources

Image result for ontario class sizeOntario Class Size Changes Will Cut 10,000 Teachers’ Jobs In 5 Years: Watchdog

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Global News has learned parents that took part in the province’s education consultations overwhelmingly rejected an increase in class sizes.

According to sources with knowledge of the survey results, approximately 70 per cent of parents felt an increase in class sizes would negatively impact students’ learning. Global News has also learned the results show a majority of parents were opposed to the government moving towards more e-learning for students.

Ontario education minister announces plan to tackle bullying

“I think it shows that parents know what’s good for their kids, and they know a significant increase in class size, especially for kids that are struggling, will make it very difficult to learn,” a source not authorized to speak publicly told Global News on Saturday.

The Ministry of Education has withheld the results of the survey despite multiple attempts by numerous groups to gain access to the information.

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In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:1.

In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:1.

In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:1.

In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:1.

In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:

In September, Global News reported the ministry had blocked a freedom-of-information request from advocacy groups, including Ontario Families for Public Education.

When contacted Friday for comment on the results of the class size survey, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office refused to provide a clear answer as to why the critical information continues to be withheld.

Sources with the ministry, who are not authorized to speak publicly, say the survey was conducted when the government planned to move forward increasing the average class size ratio in grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1 and that there is a “sky-is-falling” narrative by certain voices. In October Lecce announced the government had tabled an offer to the high school teacher’s union to reduce that ratio to 25:1.

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