July 5 Saturday Science Stumper!

What is this mysterious “lost city” at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and what hidden history might it reveal to intrepid scientists, or at least their probes?




Smart public kayaking programs know to avoid our estuaries at times like last night, despite the temptation of watching the fireworks. That’s because rains, especially with flash flooding, overwhelm the sewers so fully that raw feces is dumped into our waterways. But along with fecal bacteria come pharmaceuticals and chemicals, including antibiotics. About 80% of American waterways contain traces of antibiotics. An amusing thought is, “Great, maybe the two will cancel each other out!” Not quite. Instead, diluted antibiotics stoke the evolution of resistant pathogens while harming bacteria that benefit the ecosystem.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed a nanofilter that mimics a pump that bacterial cells use to expel antibiotics but tweaked it to instead send those compounds into vesicles. Once stored, they can be gathered for recycling or disposal, the researchers note. Living organisms might be engineered to perform this task, and the materials captured might one day include hormones, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Very impressive and perhaps a real environmental benefit. But perhaps this line of research raises its own safety concerns about nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms being released directly into the environment or slipping out of sanitation plants.