Pollution Within & Outside of Our Bodies

By Joseph Huang

Nature…a word that I have strived for and sworn to defend since as long as I can remember. After graduation, I was able to begin my travel to a few of my favorite places, national parks. Which ones? You name it, and it’s already on the list.

All of the parks that I’ve been to have been an experience of a lifetime, but not without a terrible truth. I initially thought that this vacation was supposed to be serene and natural, but every park that I’ve been to has something that I despise the most. “Litter”. I remember vividly throughout my biology courses talking about pollution and how it negatively affects the health of the environment, which would also impact the health of animals and surprisingly, the health of humans as well. This is a concept that many people cannot fathom or just don’t care at all, so why aren’t we doing anything about this? Well, there are certainly a lot of people taking action for sure, but I believe that we are lacking three key areas in this calamity, and they are time, effort, and money.

History has repeated itself multiple times throughout the 4.5 billion years that Earth has existed. Earth has experienced five major mass extinctions throughout its history, and some scientists believe that the sixth is occurring right this second, thanks to us humans. Over the past few decades, it has been estimated that the extinction rate is between 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate and is continuously rising, even with a lot of conservation efforts. Despite all of the pollution and negligence that has been occurring throughout human history, I personally believe that there is still hope to coexist with Mother Nature, but not without putting the time, effort, and money into this mission. If we as humans do not work together without strong leadership, then the chances of our survival will become fainter and our own extinction will eventually come knocking at our own door.

One of the main factors in the current mass extinction is due to microplastics, which is unfortunately found almost anywhere on earth. You name it, and it is very likely to be there, even inside of our own bodies. There have been studies where microplastics are found in almost all water bottles in virtually all over the world. Many chemists, environmental scientists, and even biologists are seeking ways to alleviate or eliminate microplastics, such as synthesizing new forms of plastics that decompose at the rate of natural organic matter, genetically modifying bacteria that feed on plastics, or synthesizing compounds that are recyclable and are not detrimental if it is released in the environment.

Based on the current research that I am working with Dr. Rayat, it is not directly related to wildlife conservation, but it is related to synthesizing new compounds that may or may not potentially provide new information on the characteristics that may impact on reacting with microplastics. One thing that I know that does make a huge impact towards the health of the environment is being aware of where to dump the waste that I use in the laboratory properly. There are many compounds used in the lab that are very harmful to the environment and needed to be sorted in appropriate waste containers with proper labels, which would then be taken to the stock room of the science building to be disposed accordingly.

Despite how much effort is put in limiting the amount of waste used anywhere, including science laboratories, there will always be waste that will end up in the environment. This is the reason why some chemists are seeking ways to manage waste and creating new compounds that end up as waste but are not as toxic as its predecessors. This may potentially apply to our own biology as well, where microplastics are also found inside the human body. If biologists can create bacteria that can eliminate microplastics and develop a mutualistic relationship within our body, then we can be plastic free as well. By using proper techniques and doing more research, there are solutions that can help eradicate the pollution within and outside of our bodies.