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The most dystopian chemical on Earth has met its match

Plus: What Carl Sagan got right about Star Wars.

Vintage illustration of The Great Wave off Kanagawa after Hokusai. The Great Wave off Kanagawa, also...
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For a while there I was obsessed with PFAS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as erstwhile Inverser Peter Hess plainly puts it in his must-read 2019 story, “are a class of chemicals used to make materials water- and grease-proof — crucial qualities for a food takeout container.”

They are also known as “forever chemicals” because they are just that; they don’t break down in our bodies and they don’t break down on Earth. They are in you right now. They eventually end up in the most remote locations on Earth and in the waves of every ocean you’ve ever enjoyed. These chemicals are downright dystopian. Created for our convenience to enable a fast-food lifestyle, they build up in living organisms over time. It’s wild, end-times stuff.

But there’s good news — There’s legislation afoot to regulate how much of these things are allowed to be created. And scientists have just discovered a natural method to pull them out of the dirt. It’s our old friend hemp. Keep scrolling to read more about this groundbreaking discovery, reported on by nature writer Tara Yarlagadda. Perhaps the most dystopian chemical on Earth has met its match.

I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse, and this is Inverse Daily. The Inverse mission is to share big ideas about science and innovation in an entertaining style and look at entertainment and culture with deeply curious methods.

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Hemp sucks PFAS from the ground Scientists and indigenous community volunteers discovered hemp can remove toxic forever chemicals, known as PFAS, from the soil of a former Air Force base. Tara Yarlagadda reports on this groundbreaking finding:

Hemp, a variety of the plant Cannabis sativa, is often overshadowed by marijuana — a genetically distinct form of cannabis. Used for food, clothing, fuel, and plastics, it’s the seemingly more domestic member of the family.

However, new research suggests we should pay more attention to this nonpsychoactive substance. Hemp, scientists say, has an eco-friendly superpower: It can rid the environment of toxic chemicals.

Read the full story.

Go deeper on what PFAS chemicals do:

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Venmo and cryptocurrency Venmo is getting into cryptocurrency, but is the mobile payments app the right place to buy bitcoin? Read our review for everything you need to know, from fees to how it compares to popular exchanges like Coinbase. Jack Delahunty has put together this guide:

You probably already use Venmo to split the bill at restaurants, but should you use it to buy cryptocurrency?

Users of PayPal-owned Venmo can now use the mobile wallet app to seamlessly buy four major cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Bitcoin Cash for as little as $1.

This represents yet another step for crypto into the mainstream financial world as Venmo boasts over 70 million users in the U.S. But it’s not a bad deal for Venmo, either. According to a 2020 customer survey, 30 percent of the payment app’s customers were already buying cryptocurrency last year through other services. If Venmo can capture even a slice of that market, it could make a killing.

Read the full story.

Go deeper:

Actor Mark Hamill presenting an award with his Star Wars co-stars C-3PO and R2-D2 at the 50th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on April 3, 1978.

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What Carl Sagan got right about Star Wars A clip of Carl Sagan discussing Star Wars in 1978 has recently gone viral. It puts into context one important fact about the existence of life in space, writes Passant Rabie in a revisitation of the piece:

This week we’re reminded of this via a viral 1978 clip of the late astronomer Carl Sagan. In it, Sagan discusses what Star Wars gets wrong about alien life.

He calls out the popular franchise for its prejudice by mainly featuring white characters and assuming that aliens could even look like humans.

Watch the full clip here.

Related headlines:

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Why so many men have alcohol-related cancer A new study suggests that four percent of new cancer cases in 2020 are associated with alcohol use, and men are the most affected by alcohol-related cancers. Katie MacBride has the story:

The nectar of the gods has a problem.

While evidence suggests a moderate amount of alcohol, typically red wine, may conjure some health benefits, a growing body of research points to the complex, negative ways alcohol interacts with the body. Alcohol is responsible for 1 in 20 deaths globally, and in a new study, scientists claim this number might be even higher.

The study also suggests cancer associated with alcohol use is especially likely to be found in men. These results were published this week in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

Read the full report.

Go deeper:

Forest Whitaker attends a photocall for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the Corinthia Hotel London on December 14, 2016. The actor marks a birthday today.

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