Eco-Friendly Plastic Made of Salmon Sperm Invented in China

Helping to keep Earth’s environment— particularly its oceans—free of gross plastic waste is going to be quite a challenge for this century. Thankfully, top minds are looking into solutions, creating, for example, incredible new machines to clean plastic waste out of rivers. Or, in the case of a new study out of China, a way to make plastic out of salmon sperm. Because what better way to limit plastic waste than making people think twice about using the stuff at all?

Gizmodo reported on the invention of the salmon-sperm plastic, which a team of Chinese researchers outlined in a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The team says in its paper that it set out to make a new type of sustainable bioplastic; one compatible with the environment over its whole life cycle.

Dozens of salmon swim through a clear stream, the males of which have sperm that Chinese scientists have now used to make eco-friendly plastics.
Bernard Spragg. NZ

To make the salmon-sperm plastic the researchers extracted two short strands of DNA from the fishes’ essence and mixed them with chemicals from vegetable oil that bound the genetic molecules together. The result of the combination was a synthetic hydrogel. That is, a 3D network of polymers that can expand and maintain a water content of up to 99%. (An image of an unrelated gelatin hydrogen is in the image below.)

Once the researchers created the synthetic hydrogel—which is very much like a jelly—they then molded it into different shapes; subsequently freeze drying the shapes to remove moisture, and, thusly, solidifying them.

Sheets of gelatin hydrogel, which are similar to the hydrogels Chinese researchers recently made of salmon sperm and vegetable oil.
Bernard Spragg. NZ

The researchers tested out several use cases for their plastic consisting of salmon sperm. The team created both a miniature cup and puzzle pieces, demonstrating how their bioplastic can hold its shape. The researchers even made a DNA molecule out of their novel, environmentally friendly material.

“To the best of our knowledge, our reported DNA plastics are the most environmentally sustainable materials of any known plastics,” Dayong Yang, a researcher at Tianjin University and study lead, told  the Times of UK. Indeed, the researchers say that DNA-based plastics produce 97% less carbon emissions than polystyrene plastics do.

DNA digesting enzymes can also break down these types of bioplastic. And people can even reform the plastic again and again simply by submerging it in water. Which sounds great because we’d rather melt our salmon-sperm mugs down in the sink than have to wash them.

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