Learning From Nature: Using Digestive Processes For Waste Management

CHOMP! Image from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24750-zoologger-alligators-use-tools-to-lure-in-bird-prey/

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

~ The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll

“How doth,” indeed. The crocodile has a powerful digestive system that has evolved over around 235 millions years. In addition to having an extra aorta, it produces “the most acidic gastric juices in nature,” including acidic Carbon Dioxide, for rapid digestion of prey. The Great White Shark is also known for amazingly fast digestion.

Although our digestion is not as fast or powerful as those creatures, the human stomach also produces carbonic acid.

How does one get this acidic carbon dioxide? It’s easy actually. When carbon dioxide and water come together, the result is Carbonic Acid, or H2CO3.

The nature and digestion-inspired idea here is to use sequestered carbon from the atmosphere to create high concentration Carbonic Acid that would break down trash in, say, a landfill. The landfill could serve a dual purpose, with the ultimate goal of removing landfills, and “aforestation.”

Unlike hydrochloric acid, also produced by the crocodile’s stomach and humans,’ Carbonic Acid can easily be converted or neutralized because of its very short shelf life. Carbonic acid decomposes easily at room temperature again into Carbon Dioxide and Water, a circular process:

H2CO3(aq)→CO2(g)+H2O(l)

Now let’s follow another stomach-related pathway — it’s a remarkable organ.

Gastric juice is also composed of digestive enzymes, which can be synthetically and even custom-produced, and this is already happening.

The gut microbiome galaxy is another source of fascination and potential. Let these articles titles show: “Microbes Eat, Thus We Eat” and “How Gut Bacteria Tell Their Hosts What to Eat.” From what I understand, microbes just love to eat. And they produce beneficial byproducts.

And get this — biochemists at UC Berkeley recently genetically engineered a microbe that makes use of carbon dioxide.

Published by sarah ikerd

@sarah.ikerd / owner

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