In our changing climate invasive organisms have the potential to wreak havoc on ecosystems around the world. One such species is the green crab which made its way to North America via the ballast water of ships from Europe. This species is well adapted to overrun Canadian ecosystems, as they lay large numbers of eggs and outcompete (and eat) native invertebrates.
These evolutionary advantages mean green crabs have the potential to have an enormous environmental impact here in Canada, but local researchers believe they have a solution to this problem. Researchers from McGill want to turn these invasive pests into biodegradable plastics and fix two ecological problems at once.
The shell of the crab is made from a polymer called chitin which is incredibly strong, and the scientists have identified a new environmentally way to extract the chitin from the shells. This new method will reduce waste and use less water than traditional chitin extraction methods and will also be much cleaner than making traditional plastics. The team are now testing the crab made plastic to confirm it is truly biodegradable and discover ways to upscale their operation to produce commercial quantities of bioplastic. It is possible that in the near future Canadians will be able to buy plastics made from the shells of this invasive species and help clean up the environment in two different ways.
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