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Boffins in Ireland claim chewing gum breakthrough

by Staff Writers
Dublin (AFP) Sept 3, 2007
Irish scientists claimed Monday they were developing a solution to a costly problem that blights pavements and streets in cities throughout the world -- sticky patches of discarded chewing gum.

Researchers at University College Cork in south-west Ireland said they were developing an eco-friendly, biodegradable gum that can be swallowed or would be quickly worn away by the elements if it ended up on the street.

Elke Arendt, head of the research team, said they were working on a gum based on proteins from cereals that had developed out of 10 years' work on gluten-free products.

"We started the project about six months ago," she told RTE state radio.

"We have isolated proteins from a wide range of cereals. We have then added enzymes and used novel processing technologies to end up with a base material for a chewing which has elasticity very close to what you find in chewing gum base material."

Arendt said their gum should vanish within a few days if spat out onto the street.

"Also when you swallow it would be very easy to digest just the same as you were eating bread," she said.

A further two and a half years' research will be needed to develop a final product.

She is "very, very optimistic" the research will be successful as the scientists have been surprised by how much elasticity they can get into the proteins.

Ireland decided last year not to impose a clean-up tax on chewing gum, as recommended in a 2002 report.

The blackened remains of gum on expensive cobbles and granite paving slabs across the country is costing councils millions of euros a year to remove with special steam cleaners.

In one month alone, Dublin city council removed an estimated 180,000 pieces of embedded gum from Grafton Street, the capital's premier shopping thoroughfare.

A government monitoring body found discarded gum made up about a third of the country's litter, the second largest problem after cigarette butts.

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