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BBC Future

60 Second Idea

‘Chewing gum should self-dissolve’

Each week a global thinker from the worlds of philosophy, science, psychology or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe would change the world.

This week fungal ecologist Lynne Boddy proposes a recipe for a cleaner world.

“I like to think I am a fairly tolerant person but I really can’t stand chewing gum. I am sure some gum chewers are highly responsible in the way that they dispose of their used gum but unfortunately there are very many more that are not. Pavements are covered in spots of gum.

Even worse, some people stick their used gum on furniture – under desks and seats. So, as well as being unsightly it can get on the bottom of your shoes and on your clothes and it is a nightmare to get rid of.

The main base of chewing gum is water insoluble and it can’t be digested by human gut enzymes. But I reckon it should be possible to include a set of enzymes in chewing that start to break it down as soon as it is moistened by saliva. Actually, even better than that it might be better to find a fungus that can do the job.

Fungi can exude whole sets of enzymes that can break down complex molecules.

When this system is invented, I’d make it a legal requirement that all chewing gum and bubble gum manufacturers include it in their gum.”

You can listen to Lynee discuss his idea with mycologist and photographer Jens Henrik Petersen and artist and inventor Phil Rossin  more detail on the BBC World Service programme The Forum, where you can also download more 60-second ideas.

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