My nephew Herbert is a brilliant young man with a PhD. He spends his time in his basement conducting scientific experiments and developing cutting-edge inventions that make this world a better place.
He’s been worried about plastic for a long time. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down in our landfills and oceans, and even after it breaks down it remains in tiny particulate form that threatens wildlife.
But a group of Yale students recently discovered a fungus in the amazon that devours polyurethane at an astonishing rate. And then there’s the Canadian high school student, Daniel Burd. Burd developed a cocktail of bacteria that can completely dissolve plastic bags in just three months.
Herbert decided to build on these recent discoveries by trying to genetically engineer a super-hungry, plastic-eating bacteria. He wanted to release this powerful microbe into the world, so it could quickly and naturally dissolve all the plastic buried in our landfills and floating in our oceans.
My nephew kept me updated on his progress. I’m not smart like him, so I really don’t know how he was able to extract the DNA from that amazonian fungus and combine it with that Canadian bacon, I mean bacteria, to engineer the new organism that he developed. All I know is that something went very, very wrong.
I got a call from him last night. He sounded panicky. “Unc-unc-unc Uncle T-tippy!” he was breathless.
“Calm down Herbert, calm down. Do a few math problems on your calculator. There that’s it. Feeling better now? Good. What’s going on?” At least I’m smarter than him when it comes to psychology.
“I won’t be able to use the calculator for very much longer, Uncle Tippy. Oh Uncle Tippy, what have I done?! The calculator keys are dissolving right before my eyes. And so is this phone. Not sure how much longer we’ll stay connected.”
“Why? What’s happening? Tell me what’s wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?” Now I was the one feeling a little panicky.
“It’s PLASTICILLUS!” he shouted.
“What the hell is that?”
“I invented it. Plasticillus, I call it. It’s a brand-new GMO bacteria that I, Dr. Herbert Veervender, invented. I should win the Nobel Prize for this. Except one thing. It’s one heck of a lot more virile than I intended it to be. It escaped my petri dishes and it’s taking over everything.”
“But isn’t that what you wanted, Herbie? Isn’t this how you’re going to save the planet from plastic?”
“You don’t understand. It’s dissolving everything plastic in the house. My computer keyboard is flaking apart. Our polyester curtains are shredding. Our vinyl flooring is decaying beneath my feet. Even the polyester fabric in my clothes is coming apart. I’m looking out my window and can see my neighbor’s artificial lawn turning from green to splotchy brown and gray. But I can’t go outside and warn my neighbors and community about this spreading bacteria because my clothes will fall off, and that would be very embarrassing.”
“This sounds crazy, Herb. What can I do? How can I help?”
“You have to do something, Uncle Tippy! Warn everyone! Warn the world!! You have a blog don’t you? Write a post to warn people. Soon no cars will be drivable, because the plastic parts in the frames and engines will decay. Soon the water utilities of many cities will cease to function, when their PVC water mains dissolve. And the electric grid will be destroyed nationwide, then worldwide, as plasticillus devours the insulation of power lines. Civilization is coming to an end!”
“Gee, this sounds serious. Alright, I’ll write a post to warn everyone. Anything else I can do?”
“Yes, you’re in a very unique position to help. So listen very closely. This is critically important to stopping the spread of this bacteria. You have to–”
We were suddenly cut off. The plasticillus must have finished off his phone. I can’t communicate with my nephew anymore. So now I’m left trying to figure out for myself what I have to do to save the world. Any ideas, anyone?