The Noon Optimist Club of Marshall met online June 16 under the leadership of President Julie Brock, Secretary Melissa Al-Ahmadi and Treasurer Michele Fuller. The meeting was supposed to be in-person with Tonya Fuller of Child Protective Services, but the meeting with her has been postponed to Aug. 4.
Thanks to Optimist Rachel Hankins, the club will learn more about new Optimist Jeremy Dreesen next week. Rachel brought Jeremy to the club and they are working on his “howdy” presentation. Optimist Adam Adair is working on an excerpt from his grandfather’s World War II diary for the last week of the month.
This week, the club shared the experience of an Optimist Veteran of a different generation — and one that did not involve an explosion-rocked airplane like last week! Spec. 4 John R. Fortune was a graduate of Karnack High School and had attended East Texas Baptist College when he arrived in southeast Asia. The incident shared was just before Christmas on December 23, 1967 at Cam Ranh Bay. It was also just prior to the tumultuous year of 1968, when the Tet Offensive would bring President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election.
LBJ was in Vietnam checking on the war. Spec. 4 John R. Fortune was one of the servicemen assigned to make preparations for the presidential visit. John was a teletype repairman in the signal corps and one of the group assigned to set up the public address system for the president’s visit.
As the president worked his way through the throngs of soldiers and dignitaries on hand to greet him that day, he began talking with the troops and shaking hands. John pressed closer and managed to shake Johnson’s hand.
“I don’t know when I was ever so surprised,” he said, when the president upon learning the soldier was a Karnack native, told him to “Wait a minute. I want to talk to you.”
Returning to Fortune when he had escaped the press of greeters, Johnson quickly brought him up to date on current events at home. “He told me Karnack had gotten a new post office and that his wife Lady Bird had been there the week before to help dedicate it. He inquired again for my name and asked if I had ever been in Mr. [T.J.] Taylor’s store.”
That store was operated by Lady Bird’s father and was a fixture in the community. “I told him I sure had been there. Of course, I was so surprised to be talking to the commander-in-chief that I just don’t remember everything we said, but I do remember that he gave me a pen. And I did write to all the folks back in Karnack about meeting someone whose wife knew my home and its community well.”
John’s family was there when the new post office, reported on by LBJ, was dedicated in Karnack and Pat Odom was its postmaster. Today, John, Pat and Rose Mary Magrill are putting the finishing touches on a new history of Karnack.
This week, Optimist Le Ila Dixon shared some tasty “good news” with a report on a recently discovered use for old plastic bottles: converting them into vanilla flavoring using genetically-engineered bacteria. This marks the first time a valuable chemical has been brewed from waste plastic!
Up-cycling plastic bottles into more lucrative materials could make the recycling process far more attractive and effective. Currently plastics lose about 95 percent of their value as a material after a single use. Encouraging better collection and use of such waste is key to tackling the global plastic pollution problem.
Researchers have already developed mutant enzymes to break down the polyethylene terephthalate polymer used for drinks bottles into its basic units, including terephthalic acid (TA). Now, scientists have used bugs to convert TA into vanillin!
Vanillin is used widely in the food and cosmetics industries and is an important bulk chemical used to make pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and herbicides. Global demand is growing and in 2018 was 37,000 tonnes, far exceeding the supply from natural vanilla beans. About 85 percent of vanillin is currently synthesized from chemicals derived from fossil fuels.
Joanna Sadler, of the University of Edinburgh, who conducted the new work, said: “This is the first example of using a biological system to up-cycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”
Stephen Wallace, also of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high value products can be made.”
About 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world and just 14 percent are recycled. Currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be turned into opaque fibers for clothing or carpets. (This use is attested to on the jackets Walmart employees wear in Marshall.)
Studies show that takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic. Research, published in the journal Green Chemistry, detailed the use of engineered E coli bacteria to transform TA into vanillin. The scientists warmed a microbial broth to 37C for a day, the same conditions as for brewing beer, Wallace said. This converted 79 percent of the TA into vanillin.
Other valuable molecules could also be brewed from TA, such as some used in perfumes. Ellis Crawford, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “This is a really interesting use of microbial science to improve sustainability. Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”