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From the College of Natural Sciences
Plastic-eating Enzyme Could Eliminate Billions of Tons of Landfill Waste

Plastic-eating Enzyme Could Eliminate Billions of Tons of Landfill Waste

An enzyme variant created by engineers and scientists at The University of Texas at Austin can break down environment-throttling plastics that typically take centuries to degrade in just a matter of hours to days.

Some Trees May Play an Outsized Role in the Fight on Global Warming

Some Trees May Play an Outsized Role in the Fight on Global Warming

Black locust trees have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that allow them to access nitrogen, which is critical for growth. Credit: iStock.

As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide continue to pile up in the atmosphere, the world is experiencing more destructive extreme weather events like hurricanes, heatwaves, floods and droughts. A new study, published earlier this month in the scientific journal Nature Plants, finds that as Earth continues to warm, a certain group of trees, called nitrogen-fixing trees, may be able to help forests remove more heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere than previously thought.

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Secondary forests at the slope Turrialba volcano in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Rens Brouwer.

Tropical forests are being deforested at an alarming rate, but also have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned lands. A study published this week in Science shows that regrowing tropical forests recover surprisingly fast, and after 20 years can attain nearly 80% of the soil fertility, soil carbon storage, structure and tree diversity of old-growth forests. The study concludes that natural regeneration is a low-cost, nature-based solution for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration.

Sodium-based Material Yields Stable Alternative to Lithium-ion Batteries

Sodium-based Material Yields Stable Alternative to Lithium-ion Batteries

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new sodium metal anode for rechargeable batteries (left) that resists the formation of dendrites, a common problem with standard sodium metal anodes (right) that can lead to shorting and fires. Images were taken with a scanning electron microscope. Image credit: Yixian Wang/University of Texas at Austin.

University of Texas at Austin researchers have created a new sodium-based battery material that is highly stable, capable of recharging as quickly as a traditional lithium-ion battery and able to pave the way toward delivering more energy than current battery technologies.

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

The three-year study focused on Coyote Ridge, a grassland near San Jose, California, which has several endemic plant species. Credit: Erika Zavaleta/University of California, Santa Cruz.

The loss of plant species that are especially vulnerable to climate change might lead to bigger problems than previous studies have suggested, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If confirmed, the findings can help inform conservation strategies and lead to more accurate predictions about what ecosystems will look like in the future.

E-Cookbook Promotes Sustainable Food Sourcing and Raises Funds for Charity

E-Cookbook Promotes Sustainable Food Sourcing and Raises Funds for Charity

A team of 17 students from The University of Texas at Austin created a donation-based e-cookbook titled "A Taste of Austin Through the Lens of Sustainability" that showcases local restaurants and businesses focused on sustainability.

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Tengchong Yunnan hot springs in China, where some of the newly described Brockarchaeota were collected. Photo credit: Jian-Yu Jiao from Sun Yat-Sen University.

The tree of life just got a little bigger: A team of scientists from the U.S. and China has identified an entirely new group of microbes quietly living in hot springs, geothermal systems and hydrothermal sediments around the world. The microbes appear to be playing an important role in the global carbon cycle by helping break down decaying plants without producing the greenhouse gas methane.

Jessica O’Connell Connects Ecology Research with Local Conservation Efforts

Jessica O’Connell Connects Ecology Research with Local Conservation Efforts

Photo courtesy of Jessica O'Connell.

Jessica O'Connell, an ecologist, remote-sensing specialist and data scientist, recently joined the Department of Marine Science as an assistant professor. O'Connell worked in wetlands across North America before making her way to the Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, where she works to uncover what causes change in wetland systems while being responsive to local conservation and management issues. Part of that work looks at how climate change and sea level rise may impact coastal marshes.

Two Pesticides Approved for Use in U.S. Found to Harm Bees

Two Pesticides Approved for Use in U.S. Found to Harm Bees

A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects. That is according to a new analysis from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

Switchgrass field experiments by the Juenger lab and partners in Michigan. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University.

A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass — a fast-growing perennial native to the U.S. — into a biofuel powerhouse.