Allergic To The World: Can Medicine Help People With Severe Intolerance To Chemicals

Sharon calls herself a universal reactor. In the 1990s, she became allergic to the world, to the mould colonising her home and the paint coating her kitchen walls, but also deodorants, soaps and anything containing plastic. Public spaces rife with artificial fragrances were unbearable. Scented disinfectants and air fresheners in hospitals made visiting doctors torture. The pervasiveness of perfumes and colognes barred her from in-person social gatherings.

Even stepping into her own back garden was complicated by the whiff of pesticides and her neighbour’s laundry detergent sailing through the air. When modern medicine failed to identify the cause of Sharon’s illness, exiting society felt like her only solution. She started asking her husband to strip and shower every time he came home. Grandchildren greeted her through a window. When we met for the first time, Sharon had been housebound for more than six years.

When I started medical school, the formaldehyde-based solutions used to embalm the cadavers in the human anatomy labs would cause my nose to burn and my eyes to well up – representing the mild, mundane end of a chemical sensitivity spectrum. The other extreme of the spectrum is an environmental intolerance of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic by doctors) or, as it is commonly known, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

An official definition of MCS does not exist because the condition is not recognised as a distinct medical entity by the World Health Organization or the American Medical Association, although it has been recognised as a disability in countries such as Germany and Canada.

Disagreement over the validity of the disease is partially due to the lack of a distinct set of signs and symptoms, or an accepted cause. When Sharon reacts, she experiences symptoms from seemingly every organ system, from brain fog to chest pain, diarrhoea, muscle aches, depression and odd rashes. There are many different triggers for MCS, sometimes extending beyond chemicals to food and even electromagnetic fields. Consistent physical findings and reproducible lab results have not been found and, as a result, people such as Sharon not only endure severe, chronic illness but also scrutiny over whether their condition is “real”.

The first reported case of MCS was published in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine in 1952 by the American allergist Theron Randolph. Although he claimed to have previously encountered 40 cases, Randolph chose to focus on the story of one woman, 41-year-old Nora Barnes. She had arrived at Randolph’s office at Northwestern University in Illinois with a diverse and bizarre array of symptoms.

A former cosmetics salesperson, she represented an “extreme case”. She was always tired, her arms and legs were swollen, and headaches and intermittent blackouts ruined her ability to work. A doctor had previously diagnosed her with hypochondria, but Barnes was desperate for a “real” diagnosis.

Randolph noted that the drive into Chicago from Michigan had worsened her symptoms, which spontaneously resolved when she checked into her room on the 23rd floor of a hotel where, Randolph reasoned, she was far away from the noxious motor exhaust filling the streets. In fact, in his report Randolph listed 30 substances that Barnes reacted to when touched (nylon, nail polish), ingested (aspirin, food dye), inhaled (perfume, the “burning of pine in fireplace”) and injected (the synthetic opiate meperidine, and Benadryl).

He posited that Barnes and his 40 other patients were sensitive to petroleum products in ways that defied the classic clinical picture of allergies. That is, rather than an adverse immune response, such as hives or a rash where the body is reacting to a particular antigen, patients with chemical sensitivities were displaying an intolerance. Randolph theorised that, just as people who are lactose-intolerant experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea and gas because of undigested lactose creating excess fluid in their gastrointestinal tract, his patients were vulnerable to toxicity at relatively low concentrations of certain chemicals that they were unable to metabolise.

He even suggested that chemical sensitivity research was being suppressed by “the ubiquitous distribution of petroleum and wood products”. MCS, he believed, was not only a matter of scientific exploration, but also of deep-seated corporate interest. Randolph concludes his report with his recommended treatment: avoidance of exposure.

In that one-page abstract, Randolph cut the ribbon on the completely novel but quickly controversial field of environmental medicine. Nowadays, we hardly question the ties between the environment and wellbeing. The danger of secondhand smoke, the realities of climate change and the endemic nature of respiratory maladies such as asthma are common knowledge. The issue was that Randolph’s patients lacked abnormal test results (specifically, diagnostic levels of immunoglobulin E, a blood marker that is elevated during an immune response). Whatever afflicted them were not conventional allergies, so conventional allergists resisted Randolph’s hypotheses.

Randolph was in the dark. Why was MCS only now rearing its head? He also asked another, more radical question: why did this seem to be a distinctly American phenomenon? After all, the only other mention of chemical sensitivities in medical literature was in the US neurologist George Miller Beard’s 1880 textbook A Practical Treatise on Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia).

Beard argued that sensitivity to foods containing alcohol or caffeine was associated with neurasthenia, a now-defunct term used to describe the exhaustion of the nervous system propagated by the US’s frenetic culture of productivity. Like Beard, Randolph saw chemical sensitivities as a disease of modernity, and conceived the origin as wear-and-tear as opposed to overload.

Randolph proposed that Americans, propelled by the post-second world war boom, had encountered synthetic chemicals more and more in their workplaces and homes, at concentrations considered acceptable for most people. Chronic exposure to these subtoxic dosages, in conjunction with genetic predispositions, strained the body and made patients vulnerable. On the back of this theory, Randolph developed a new branch of medicine and, with colleagues, founded the Society for Clinical Ecology, now known as the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

As his professional reputation teetered, his popularity soared and patients flocked to his care. Despite this growth in interest, researchers never identified blood markers in MCS patients, and trials found that people with MCS couldn’t differentiate between triggers and placebos. By 2001, a review in the Journal of Internal Medicine found MCS virtually nonexistent outside western industrialised countries, despite the globalisation of chemical use, suggesting that the phenomenon was culturally bound.

MCS subsequently became a diagnosis of exclusion, a leftover label used after every other possibility was eliminated. The empirical uncertainty came to a head in 2021, when Quebec’s public health agency, the INSPQ, published an 840-page report that reviewed more than 4,000 articles in the scientific literature, concluding that MCS is an anxiety disorder.

In medicine, psychiatric disorders are not intrinsically inferior; serious mental illness is, after all, the product of neurological dysfunction. But the MCS patients I spoke to found the language offensive and irresponsible. Reducing what they felt in their eyes, throats, lungs and guts to anxiety was not acceptable at all.

As a woman I will call Judy told me: “I would tell doctors my symptoms, and then they’d run a complete blood count and tell me I looked fine, that it must be stress, so they’d shove a prescription for an antidepressant in my face and tell me to come back in a year.” In fact, because MCS is so stigmatising, such patients may never receive the level of specialised care they need.

In the wake of her “treatment”, Judy was frequently bedbound from crushing fatigue, and no one took her MCS seriously. “I think a lot of doctors fail to understand that we are intelligent,” she said. “A lot of us with chemical sensitivities spend a good amount of our time researching and reading scientific articles and papers. I probably spent more of my free time reading papers than most doctors.”

Judy grew up in Texas, where she developed irritable bowel syndrome and was told by doctors that she was stressed. Her 20s were spent in Washington state where she worked as a consultant before a major health crash left her bedbound for years (again, the doctors said she was stressed). Later, after moving to Massachusetts, a new paint job at her home gave her fatigue and diarrhoea.

She used to browse the local art museum every Saturday, but even fumes from the paintings irritated her symptoms. She visited every primary care doctor in her city, as well as gastroenterologists, cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists and even geneticists. Most of them reacted the same way: with a furrowed brow and an antidepressant prescription in hand. “Not one allopathic doctor has ever been able to help me,” Judy said.

Morton Teich is one of the few physicians who diagnoses and treats patients with MCS in New York. The entrance to his integrative medicine private practice is hidden away behind a side door in a grey-brick building on Park Avenue. As I entered the waiting room, the first thing to catch my eye was the monstrous mountain of folders and binders precariously hugging a wall, in lieu of an electronic medical record.

I half-expected Teich’s clinic to resemble the environmental isolation unit used by Randolph in the 1950s, with an airlocked entrance, blocked ventilation shafts and stainless-steel air-filtration devices, books and newspapers in sealed boxes, aluminium walls to prevent electromagnetic pollution, and water in glass bottles instead of a cooler. But there were none of the above. The clinic was like any other family medicine practice I had seen before; it was just very old. The physical examination rooms had brown linoleum floors and green metal chairs and tables. And there were no windows.

Although several of Teich’s patients were chemically sensitive, MCS was rarely the central focus of visits. When he introduced me, as a student writing about MCS, to his first patient of the day, a petrol-intolerant woman whose appointment was over the phone because she was housebound, she admitted to never having heard of the condition. “You have to remember,” Teich told me, “that MCS is a symptom. It’s just one aspect of my patients’ problems. My goal is to get a good history and find the underlying cause.” Later, when I asked him whether he had observed any patterns suggesting an organic cause of MCS, he responded: “Mould. Almost always.”

Many people with MCS I encountered online also cited mould as a probable cause. Sharon told me about her first episode in 1998, when she experienced chest pain after discovering black mould festering in her family’s trailer home. A cardiac examination had produced no remarkable results, and Sharon’s primary care physician declared that she was having a panic attack related to the stress of a recent miscarriage. Sharon recognised that this contributed to her sudden health decline, but also found that her symptoms resolved only once she began sleeping away from home.

She found recognition in medical books such as Toxic (2016) by Neil Nathan, a retired family physician who argued that bodily sensitivities were the product of a hyper-reactive nervous system and a vigilant immune system that fired up in reaction to toxicities, much as Randolph had said. The conditions that Nathan describes are not supported by academic medicine as causes of MCS: mould toxicity and chronic Lyme disease are subject to the same critique.

Sharon went to see William Rea, a former surgeon (and Teich’s best friend). Rea diagnosed her with MCS secondary to mould toxicity. “Mould is everywhere,” Teich told me. “Not just indoors. Mould grows on leaves. That’s why people without seasonal allergies can become chemically sensitive during autumn.” When trees shed their leaves, he told me, mould spores fly into the air. He suspected that American mould is not American at all, but an invasive species that rode wind currents over the Pacific from China. He mentioned in passing that his wife recently died from ovarian cancer. Her disease, he speculated, also had its roots in mould.

In fact, Teich commonly treats patients with nystatin, an antifungal medication used to treat candida yeast infections, which often infect the mouth, skin and vagina. “I have an 80% success rate,” he told me. I was dubious that such a cheap and commonplace drug was able to cure an illness as debilitating as MCS, but I could not sneer at his track record. Every patient I met while shadowing Teich was comfortably in recovery, with smiles and jokes, miles apart from the people I met in online support groups who seemed to be permanently in the throes of their illness.

However, Teich was not practising medicine as I was taught it. This was a man who believed that the recombinant MMR vaccine could trigger “acute autism” – traditionally an anti-science point of view. When one of his patients, a charismatic bookworm I’ll call Mark, arrived at an appointment with severe, purple swelling up to his knees and a clear case of stasis dermatitis (irritation of the skin caused by varicose veins), Teich reflexively blamed mould and wrote a prescription for nystatin instead of urging Mark to see a cardiologist.

When I asked how a fungal infection in Mark’s toes could cause such a bad rash on his legs, he responded: “We have candida everywhere, and its toxins are released into the blood and travel to every part of the body. The thing is, most people don’t notice until it’s too late.” Moulds and fungi are easy scapegoats for inexplicable illnesses because they are so ubiquitous in our indoor and outdoor environments. A great deal of concern over mould toxicity (or, to use the technical term, mycotoxicosis) stems from the concept of “sick-building syndrome”, in which visible black mould is thought to increase sensitivity and make people ill.

This was true of Mark, who could point to the demolition of an old building across the street from his apartment as a source of mould in the atmosphere. Yet in mainstream medicine, diseases caused by moulds are restricted to allergies, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (an immunologic reaction to an inhaled agent, usually organic, within the lungs) and infection.

Disseminated fungal infections occur almost exclusively in patients who are immunocompromised, hospitalised or have an invasive foreign body such as a catheter. Furthermore, if “clinical ecologists” such as Teich are correct that moulds such as candida can damage multiple organs, then it must be spreading through the bloodstream. But I have yet to encounter a patient with MCS who reported fever or other symptoms of sepsis (the traumatic, whole-body reaction to infection) as part of their experience.

Teich himself did not use blood cultures to verify his claims of “systemic candidiasis”, and instead looked to chronic fungal infection of the nails, common in the general population, as sufficient proof.

“I don’t need tests or blood work,” he told me. “I rarely ever order them. I can see with my eyes that he has mould, and that’s enough.” It was Teich’s common practice to ask his patients to remove their socks to reveal the inevitable ridges and splits on their big toenails, and that’s all he needed.

Through Teich, I met a couple who were both chemically sensitive but otherwise just regular people. The wife, an upper-middle-class white woman I will call Cindy, had a long history of allergies and irritable bowel syndrome. She became ill whenever she smelled fumes or fragrances, especially laundry detergent and citrus or floral scents. Teich put both her and her husband on nystatin, and their sensitivities lessened dramatically.

What struck me as different about her case, compared with other patients with MCS, was that Cindy was also on a course of antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, the standard treatment for anxiety and depression. “It really helps to cope with all the stress that my illness causes. You learn to live despite everything,” she said.

In contemporary academic medicine, stress and anxiety cause MCS, but MCS can itself cause psychiatric symptoms. Teich later told me, unexpectedly, that he had no illusions about whether MCS is a partly psychiatric illness: “Stress affects the adrenals, and that makes MCS worse. The mind and the body are not separate. We have to treat the whole person.”

To understand this case, I also spoke to Donald Black, associate chief of staff for mental health at the Iowa City Veterans Administration Health Care. He co-authored a recent article on idiopathic environmental intolerance that took a uniform stance on MCS as a psychosomatic disorder. In 1988, when Black was a new faculty member at the University of Iowa, he interviewed a patient entering a drug trial for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He asked the woman to list her medications, and watched as she started unloading strange supplements and a book about environmental illness from her bag. The woman had been seeing a psychiatrist in Iowa City – a colleague of Black’s – who had diagnosed her with systemic candidiasis. Black was flummoxed. If that diagnosis was true, then the woman would be very ill, not sitting calmly before him.

Besides, it was not up to a psychiatrist to treat a fungal infection. How did he make the diagnosis? Did he do a physical or run blood tests? No, the patient told him, the psychiatrist just said that her symptoms were compatible with candidiasis. These symptoms included chemical sensitivities. After advising the patient to discard her supplements and find a new psychiatrist, Black made some phone calls and discovered that, indeed, his colleague had fallen in with the clinical ecologists.

Black was intrigued by this amorphous condition that had garnered an endless number of names: environmentally induced illness, toxicant-induced loss of tolerance, chemical hypersensitivity disease, immune dysregulation syndrome, cerebral allergy, 20th-century disease, and mould toxicity. In 1990, he solicited the aid of a medical student to find 26 subjects who had been diagnosed by clinical ecologists with chemical sensitivities and to conduct an “emotional profile”.

Every participant in their study filled out a battery of questions that determined whether they satisfied any of the criteria for psychiatric disorders. Compared with the controls, the chemically sensitive subjects had 6.3 times higher lifetime prevalence of major depression, and 6.8 times higher lifetime prevalence of panic disorder or agoraphobia; 17% of the cases met the criteria for somatisation disorder (an extreme focus on physical symptoms – such as pain or fatigue – that causes major emotional distress and problems functioning).

In my own review of the literature, it was clear that the most compelling evidence for MCS came from case studies of large-scale “initiating events” such as the Gulf war (where soldiers were uniquely exposed to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide pills to protect against nerve agents) or the terrorist attacks on the US of 11 September 2001 (when toxins from the falling towers caused cancers and respiratory ailments for years).

In both instances, a significant number of victims developed chemical intolerances compared with populations who were not exposed. From a national survey of veterans deployed in the Gulf war, researchers found that up to a third of respondents reported multi-symptom illnesses, including sensitivity to pesticides – twice the rate of veterans who had not deployed.

Given that Gulf war veterans experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at levels similar to those in other military conflicts, the findings have been used to breathe new life into Randolph’s idea of postindustrial toxicities leading to intolerance. The same has been said of the first responders and the World Trade Centre’s nearby residents, who developed pulmonary symptoms when exposed to “cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, cleaning solutions, perfume, or other airborne irritants” after 9/11, according to a team at Mount Sinai.

Black, who doubts a real disease, has no current clinical experience with MCS patients. (Apart from the papers he wrote more than 20 years ago, he had seen only a handful of MCS patients over the course of his career.) Despite this, he had not only written the article about MCS, but also a guide in a major online medical manual on how to approach MCS treatment as a psychiatric disease. When I asked him if there was a way for physicians to regain the trust of patients who have been bruised by the medical system, he simply replied:

“No.” For him, there would always be a subset of patients who are searching for answers or treatments that traditional medicine could not satisfy. Those were the people who saw clinical ecologists, or who left society altogether. In a time of limited resources, these were not the patients on which Black thought psychiatry needed to focus. It became clear to me why even the de facto leading professional on MCS had hardly any experience actually treating MCS.

In his 1990 paper, Black – then a young doctor – rightly observed that “traditional medical practitioners are probably insensitive to patients with vague complaints, and need to develop new approaches to keep them within the medical fold.  The study subjects clearly believed that their clinical ecologists had something to offer them that others did not: sympathy, recognition of pain and suffering, a physical explanation for their suffering, and active participation in medical care.”I wondered if Black had given up on these “new approaches” because few CS patients wanted to see a psychiatrist in the first place.

Physicians on either side of the debate agreed that mental illness is a crucial part of treating MCS, with one I spoke to believing that stress causes MCS, and another believing that MCS causes stress. To reconcile the views, I interviewed another physician, Christine Oliver, a doctor of occupational medicine in Toronto, where she has served on the Ontario Task Force on Environmental Health. Oliver believes that both stances are probably valid and true. “No matter what side you’re on,” she told me, “there’s a growing consensus that this is a public health problem.”

Oliver represents a useful third position, one that takes the MCS illness experience seriously while sticking closely to medical science. As one of few “MCS-agnostic” physicians, she believes in a physiological cause for MCS that we cannot know and therefore cannot treat directly due to lack of research. Oliver agrees with Randolph’s original suggestion of avoiding exposures, although she understands that this approach has resulted in traumatising changes in patients’ abilities to function. For her, the priority for MCS patients is a practical one: finding appropriate housing.

Often unable to work and with a limited income, many of her patients occupy public housing or multi-family dwellings. The physician of an MCS patient must act like a social worker. Facilities such as hospitals, she feels, should be made more accessible by reducing scented cleaning products and soaps. Ultimately, finding a non-threatening space with digital access to healthcare providers and social support is the best way to allow the illness to run its course.

Whether organic or psychosomatic or something in between, MCS is a chronic illness. “One of the hardest things about being chronically ill,” wrote the American author Meghan O’Rourke in the New Yorker in 2013 about her battle against Lyme disease, “is that most people find what you’re going through incomprehensible – if they believe you are going through it. In your loneliness, your preoccupation with an enduring new reality, you want to be understood in a way that you can’t be.”

A language for chronic illness does not exist beyond symptomatology, because in the end symptoms are what debilitate “normal” human functioning. In chronic pain, analgesics can at least deaden a patient’s suffering. The same cannot be said for MCS symptoms, which are disorienting in their chaotic variety, inescapability and inexpressibility. There are few established avenues for patients to completely avoid triggering their MCS, and so they learn to orient their lives around mitigating symptoms instead, whether that is a change in diet or moving house, as Sharon did. MCS comes to define their existence.

As a housebound person, Sharon’s ability to build a different life was limited. Outside, the world was moving forward, yet Sharon never felt left behind. What allowed her to live with chronic illness was not medicine or therapy, but the internet. On a typical day, Sharon wakes up and prays in bed. She wolfs down handfuls of pills and listens to upbeat music on YouTube while preparing her meals for the day: blended meats and vegetables, for easier swallowing.

The rest of the day is spent on her laptop computer, checking email and Facebook, watching YouTube videos until her husband returns home in the evening. Then bed. This is how Sharon has lived for the past six years, and she does not expect anything different from the future. When I asked her if being homebound was lonely, I was taken aback at her reply: “No.”

In spite of not having met most of her 15 grandchildren (with two more on the way), Sharon keeps in daily contact with all of them. In fact, Sharon communicates with others on a nearly constant basis. “Some people are very much extroverts,” Sharon wrote. “I certainly am. But there are also people who need physical touch … and I can understand why they might need to see ‘real people’ then … but it’s very possible to be content with online friends. This is my life!”

The friendships that Sharon formed online with other housebound people with chronic illnesses were the longest-lasting and the most alive relationships she had ever known. She had never met her best friend of 20 years – their relationship existed completely through letters and emails, until two years ago, when the friend died. That “was very hard for me”, Sharon wrote.

The pandemic changed very little of Sharon’s life. If anything, Covid-19 improved her situation. Sharon’s local church live-streamed Sunday service, telehealth doctor appointments became the default, YouTube exploded in content, and staying indoors was normalised. Sharon saw her network steadily expand as more older adults became isolated in quarantine.

People within the online MCS community call themselves “canaries”, after the birds historically used as sentinels in coalmines to detect toxic levels of carbon monoxide. With a higher metabolism and respiratory rate, the small birds would theoretically perish before the less-sensitive human miners, providing a signal to escape. The question for people with MCS is: will anyone listen?

“Us canaries,” said a woman named Vera, who was bedbound from MCS for 15 years after a botched orthopaedic surgery, “we struggle and suffer in silence.” Now, in the information age, they have colonised the internet to find people like themselves. For our part, we must reimagine chronic illness – which will become drastically more common in the aftermath of the pandemic – where what matters to the patient is not only a scientific explanation and a cure, but also a way to continue living a meaningful life.

This calls into action the distinction between illness and disease that the psychiatrist and anthropologist Arthur Kleinman made in his 1988 book The Illness Narratives. Whereas a disease is an organic process within the body, illness is the lived experience of bodily processes. “Illness problems,” he writes, “are the principal difficulties that symptoms and disability create in our lives.”

By centring conversations about MCS on whether or not it is real, we alienate the people whose illnesses have deteriorated their ability to function at home and in the world. After all, the fundamental mistrust does not lie in the patient-physician relationship, but between patients and their bodies. Chronic illness is a corporeal betrayal, an all-out assault on the coherent self. Academic medicine cannot yet shed light on the physiological mechanisms that would explain MCS. But practitioners and the rest of society must still meet patients with empathy and acceptance, making space for their narratives, their lives, and their experience in the medical and wider world.

After two years of wrangling, false starts and disappointments, it finally happened: America has passed its first-ever climate legislation, moving the country closer to its goal of a decarbonized future and taking a significant step toward helping the planet avert the worst scenarios of climate catastrophe.

But it’s not a time to rest. We have always held power to account – on climate and  every other major issue – from the fossil fuel companies responsible for heating the planet to the politicians representing their interests. The country responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions in history has indicated it will change course; we will relentlessly report on what comes next, who will benefit and the remaining obstacles to progress.

With daily reporting and analysis on the climate emergency, we aim to ensure that even more people are made aware of the dangers – and opportunities – of this moment.


Source: Allergic to the world: can medicine help people with severe intolerance to chemicals? | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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Tomatoes Gene-Edited To Provide More Vitamin D


Now, a team of researchers have come up with a potential new and vegan source of vitamin D: tomatoes gene edited using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to contain a precursor to vitamin D.

If the process is adopted commercially by farmers and producers, these tomatoes could help address vitamin D insufficiency, which the study said affects 1 billion people globally.

“This exciting discovery not only improves human health but contributes to the environmental benefits associated with more plant-based diets — often linked with a challenge in securing some key vitamins and minerals widely found and bioavailable in animal products,” Guy Poppy, a professor of ecology at the University of Southampton, told the Science Media Centre in London. He wasn’t involved in the research.

Vitamin D supplements are widely available in many countries, but coauthor Cathie Martin, a professor at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, said that eating a tomato was “so much better than taking a pill.”

“I think that having a dietary source (of vitamin D) in the form of a plant also means that you can get added benefit from eating tomatoes. We don’t eat enough fruit and veg anyway. A tomato is a good source of vitamin C as well,” she said at a news briefing.The study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Plants.

Sunshine vitamin

The main source of vitamin D for most people is dietary, but our body also makes the micronutrient when skin is exposed to UVB light — that’s why it’s sometimes called the sunshine vitamin. The scientists harnessed a similar process in tomato plants.

The compound in the skin that can make vitamin D is known as 7-DHC, or provitamin D3, and it’s also found in tomato plant leaves and unripe green fruit. The researchers blocked a gene in tomato plants that normally converts provitamin D3 into cholesterol, which enabled provitamin D3 to accumulate in the ripe tomato fruit. The tomato plant on the left is gene edited.

To convert the provitamin D3 into vitamin D3 that helps our bodies, the tomatoes were treated with UVB light. The study found that provitamin D3 in one tomato — once converted to vitamin D3 — would be equivalent to the amount of vitamin D3 contained in two medium-size eggs or 28 grams (1 ounce) of tuna.

A trial in the United Kingdom is assessing whether growing the tomato plants outdoors, where they would be exposed to natural sunlight, would automatically result in the conversion of 7-DHC to vitamin D3.

The first fruits are expected to ripen by the end of June, Martin said. The tomatoes could also be sun-dried once picked, removing the need for treatment with UVB light, she added. The UK Parliament passed new legislation earlier this year that is designed to facilitate trials of gene-edited crops.

Other vegetables

The gene-blocking technique, which the researchers are making freely available with the publication of the paper, could also be applied to other species of solanaceous plant such as bell peppers, chiles, eggplants and potatoes, Martin said.

Mushrooms can also be a source of vitamin D when treated with UVB light or wild grown, according to the researchers. However, these plants produced vitamin D2, which the paper said was “substantially less bioeffective” than vitamin D3, which comes from meat and dairy.

Also, vitamin D3 supplements typically aren’t vegan, said Susan Lanham-New, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Surrey in the UK. She wasn’t involved in the study.

 “Lanolin, which is the main source (for D3), is extracted from sheep’s wool. The sheep is still alive so it is OK for vegetarians. But it is not for vegans and that’s one of the things that makes this study very extraordinary is that you have a D3 source (from a plant),” she said at the briefing.

The leaves of the gene-edited tomato plants also contained a substantial amount of provitamin D, the researchers said. They were looking at ways this waste material could be turned into vegan vitamin D supplements. The study team hoped this could act as incentive for producers to plant and produce the biofortified tomatoes.

The gene-edited tomatoes looked indistinguishable from and tasted the same as regular tomatoes, said coauthor Jie Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre, and gene editing didn’t affect the plan’s growth, development or yield.

The scientists who devised the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology won the Nobel prize in 2020. The tool is having a major impact on biomedical research, clinical medicine, agriculture and farming. Like a pair of precision scissors, it can target predetermined sites in genetic material, knocking out a particular gene or inserting new genetic material.

Source: Tomatoes gene-edited to provide more vitamin D – CNN

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Future Technology: 22 Ideas About To Change Our World

Technology is rapidly improving, offering new innovations and revolutionary projects every year. At any given moment, scientists, engineers and some very sharp minds are out there creating the next piece of future technology that will change our lives. It can feel like scientific progress is steady but we have lived through a period of immense technological improvement in the last half century.

There are innovations happening right now that are ripped straight from the pages of science-fiction. Whether that is robots that can read minds, NFTS, bionic eyes, smartwatches that are powered by your sweat or plenty of other mind-blowing technology, there is a lot to expect from the world of future technology. Below we’ve picked out some of the biggest and most interesting ideas.

Brain reading robots

No longer a science fiction trope, the use of brain reading technology has improved hugely in recent years. One of the most interesting and practical uses we’ve seen tested so far comes from researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

Thanks to a machine-learning algorithm, a robot arm and a brain-computer interface, these researchers have managed to create a means for tetraplegic patients (those who can’t move their upper or lower body) to interact with the world.

In tests, the robot arm would perform simple tasks like moving around an obstacle. The algorithm would then interprets signals from the brain using an EEG cap and automatically determine when the arm had made a move that the brain considered incorrect, for example moving too close to the obstacle or going too fast.

Over time the algorithm can then adjust to the individuals preferences and brain signals. In the future this could lead to wheelchairs controlled by the brain or assistance machines for tetraplegic patients.

3D printed bones

3D printing is an industry promising everything from cheap house building through to affordable rugged armour, but one of the most interesting uses of the technology is the building of 3D printed bones.

The company Ossiform specialises in medical 3D printing, creating patient-specific replacements of different bones from tricalcium phosphate – a material with similar properties to human bones.

Using these 3D printed bones is surprisingly easy. A hospital can perform an MRI which is then sent to Ossiform who create a 3D model of the patient-specific implant that is needed. The surgeon accepts the design and then once it is printed, it can be used in surgery.

What is special about these 3D printed bones is that because of the use of tricalcium phosphate, the body will remodel the implants into vascularised bone. That means they will enable the full restoration of function that the bone it is replacing had. To achieve the best integration possible, the implants are of a porous structure and feature large pores and canals for cells to attach to and reform bone.

Lab-made dairy products

You’ve heard of cultured “meat” and Wagyu steaks grown cell by cell in a laboratory, but what about other animal-based foodstuffs? A growing number of biotech companies around the world are investigating lab-made dairy, including milk, ice-cream, cheese and eggs. And more than one think they’ve cracked it.

The dairy industry is not environmentally friendly, not even close. It’s responsible for 4 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, more than air travel and shipping combined, and demand is growing for a greener splash to pour into our tea cups and cereal bowls.

Compared with meat, milk isn’t actually that difficult to create in a lab. Rather than grow it from stem cells, most researchers attempt to produce it in a process of fermentation, looking to produce the milk proteins whey and casein. Some products are already at market in the US, from companies such as Perfect Day, with ongoing work focused on reproducing the mouthfeel and nutritional benefits of regular cow’s milk.

Beyond that, researchers are working on lab-produced mozzarella that melts perfectly on top of a pizza, as well other cheeses and ice-cream.

Hydrogen planes

Carbon emissions are a huge concern when it comes to commercial flights, but there is a potential solution and it has received a lot of funding.

A £15 million UK project has unveiled plans for a hydrogen-powered plane. This project is known as Fly Zero and is being led by the Aerospace Technology Institute in conjunction with the UK government.

The project has come up with a concept for a mid-size plane powered completely by liquid hydrogen. It would have the capacity to fly roughly 279 passengers halfway around the world without stopping.

If this technology could be actualised, it could mean a zero-carbon flight with no stops between London and Western America or London to New Zealand with a single stop.

Digital “twins” that track your health

In Star Trek, where many of our ideas of future technology germinated, human beings can walk into the medbay and have their entire body digitally scanned for signs of illness and injury. Doing that in real life would, say the makers of Q Bio, improve health outcomes and alleviate the load on doctors at the same time.

The US company has built a scanner that will measure hundreds of biomarkers in around an hour, from hormone levels to the fat building up in your liver to the markers of inflammation or any number of cancers. It intends to use this data to produce a 3D digital avatar of a patient’s body – known as a digital twin – that can be tracked over time and updated with each new scan.

Q Bio CEO Jeff Kaditz hopes it will lead to a new era of preventative, personalised medicine in which the vast amounts of data collected not only help doctors prioritise which patients need to be seen most urgently, but also to develop more sophisticated ways of diagnosing illness. Read an interview with him here.

Virtual reality universes

After making its dramatic name change, the company once known as Facebook has become Meta. This marks Zuckerberg and his huge team’s move into the metaverse – an embodied internet mostly accessed through virtual and augmented reality.

As part of this move, we will start to see Meta putting more time into equipment for accessing this new world – mostly in VR. Announced back in 2021, Meta has been developing a new headset under the title ‘Project Cambria’.

Unlike the brand’s previous VR ventures like the Oculus Quest 2, this won’t be a device for the average consumer, instead looking to offer the best VR experience they can make.

The Cambria has been reported to be focused on advanced eye and face tracking (to improve accuracy of avatars and your in-game movements), a higher resolution, increased field-of-view and even trying to make the headset significantly smaller.

Between Meta, Google, Sony and plenty of other big tech companies, VR is getting lots of funding right now and will be seeing drastic improvements in the next couple of years.

Direct air capture

Through the process of photosynthesis, trees have remained one of the best ways to reduce the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. However, new technology could perform the same role as trees, absorbing carbon dioxide at greater levels while also taking up less land.

This technology is known as Direct Air Capture (DAC). It involves taking carbon dioxide from the air and either storing the CO2 in deep geological caves under ground, or using it in combination with hydrogen to produce synthetic fuels.

While this technology has great potential, it has a lot of complications right now. There are now direct air capture facilities up and running, but the current models require a huge amount of energy to run. If the energy levels can be reduced in the future, DAC could prove to be one of the best technological advances for the future of the environment.

Green funerals

Sustainable living is becoming a priority for individuals squaring up to the realities of the climate crisis, but what about eco-friendly dying? Death tends to be a carbon-heavy process, one last stamp of our ecological footprint. The average cremation reportedly releases 400kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for example. So what’s a greener way to go?

In Washington State in the US, you could be composted instead. Bodies are laid in chambers with bark, soil, straw and other compounds that promote natural decomposition. Within 30 days, your body is reduced to soil that can be returned to a garden or woodland. Recompose, the company behind the process, claims it uses an eighth of the carbon dioxide of a cremation.

An alternative technology uses fungi. In 2019, the late actor Luke Perry was buried in a bespoke “mushroom suit” designed by a start-up called Coeio. The company claims its suit, made with mushrooms and other microorganisms that aid decomposition and neutralise toxins that are realised when a body usually decays.

Most alternative ways of disposing of our bodies after death are not based on new technology; they’re just waiting for societal acceptance to catch up. Another example is alkaline hydrolysis, which involves breaking the body down into its chemical components over a six-hour process in a pressurised chamber. It’s legal in a number of US states and uses fewer emissions compared with more traditional methods.

Artificial eyes

Bionic eyes have been a mainstay of science fiction for decades, but now real-world research is beginning to catch up with far-sighted storytellers. A raft of technologies is coming to market that restore sight to people with different kinds of vision impairment.

In January 2021, surgeons implanted the world’s first artificial cornea into a bilaterally blind, 78-year-old man. When his bandages were removed, the patient could read and recognise family members immediately. The implant also fuses naturally to human tissue without the recipient’s body rejecting it.

Likewise in 2020, Belgian scientists developed an artificial iris fitted to smart contact lenses that correct a number of vision disorders. And scientists are even working on wireless brain implants that bypass the eyes altogether.

Researchers at Montash University in Australia are working on trials for a system whereby users wear a pair of glasses fitted with a camera. This sends data directly to the implant, which sits on the surface of the brain and gives the user a rudimentary sense of sight.

Airports for drones and flying taxis

Our congested cities are in desperate need of a breather and relief may come from the air as opposed to the roads. Plans for a different kind of transport hub – one for delivery drones and electric air-taxis – are becoming a reality, with the first Urban Air Port receiving funding from the UK government.

It’s being built in Coventry. The hub will be a pilot scheme and hopefully a proof of concept for the company behind it. Powered completely off-grid by a hydrogen generator, the idea is to remove the need for as many delivery vans and personal cars on our roads, replacing them with a clean alternative in the form of a new type of small aircraft, with designs being developed by Huyundai and Airbus, amongst others.

Infrastructure is going to be important. Organisations like the Civil Aviation Authority are looking into the establishment of air corridors that might link a city centre with a local airport or distribution centre.

Energy storing bricks

Scientists have found a way to store energy in the red bricks that are used to build houses.

Researchers led by Washington University in St Louis, in Missouri, US, have developed a method that can turn the cheap and widely available building material into “smart bricks” that can store energy like a battery.

Although the research is still in the proof-of-concept stage, the scientists claim that walls made of these bricks “could store a substantial amount of energy” and can “be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour”.

The researchers developed a method to convert red bricks into a type of energy storage device called a supercapacitor.

This involved putting a conducting coating, known as Pedot, onto brick samples, which then seeped through the fired bricks’ porous structure, converting them into “energy storing electrodes”.

Iron oxide, which is the red pigment in the bricks, helped with the process, the researchers said.

Sweat powered smartwatches

Engineers at the University of Glasgow have developed a new type of flexible supercapacitor, which stores energy, replacing the electrolytes found in conventional batteries with sweat.

It can be fully charged with as little as 20 microlitres of fluid and is robust enough to survive 4,000 cycles of the types of flexes and bends it might encounter in use.

The device works by coating polyester cellulose cloth in a thin layer of a polymer, which acts as the supercapacitor’s electrode.

As the cloth absorbs its wearer’s sweat, the positive and negative ions in the sweat interact with the polymer’s surface, creating an electrochemical reaction which generates energy.

“Conventional batteries are cheaper and more plentiful than ever before but they are often built using unsustainable materials which are harmful to the environment,” says Professor Ravinder Dahiya, head of the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (Best) group, based at the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering.

“That makes them challenging to dispose of safely and potentially harmful in wearable devices, where a broken battery could spill toxic fluids on to skin.

“What we’ve been able to do for the first time is show that human sweat provides a real opportunity to do away with those toxic materials entirely, with excellent charging and discharging performance.

Self-healing ‘living concrete’

Scientists have developed what they call living concrete by using sand, gel and bacteria.

Researchers said this building material has structural load-bearing function, is capable of self-healing and is more environmentally friendly than concrete – which is the second most-consumed material on Earth after water.

The team from the University of Colorado Boulder believe their work paves the way for future building structures that could “heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air or even glow on command”.

Living robots

Tiny hybrid robots made using stem cells from frog embryos could one day be used to swim around human bodies to specific areas requiring medicine, or to gather microplastic in the oceans.

“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont, who co-developed the millimetre-wide bots, known as xenobots.

“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artefact: a living, programmable organism.”

Internet for everyone

We can’t seem to live without the internet (how else would you read, but still only around half the world’s population is connected. There are many reasons for this, including economic and social reasons, but for some the internet just isn’t accessible because they have no connection.

Google is slowly trying to solve the problem using helium balloons to beam the internet to inaccessible areas, while Facebook has abandoned plans to do the same using drones, which means companies like Hiber are stealing a march.

They have taken a different approach by launching their own network of shoebox-sized microsatellites into low Earth orbit, which wake up a modem plugged into your computer or device when it flies over and delivers your data.

Their satellites orbit the Earth 16 times a day and are already being used by organisations like The British Antarctic Survey to provide internet access to very extreme of our planet.

Coffee power

London’s coffee industry creates over 200,000 tonnes of waste every year, so what do we do with it? Entrepreneur Arthur Kay’s big idea is to use his company, bio-bean, to turn 85 per cent of coffee waste into biofuels for heating buildings and powering transport. Already the world’s largest recycler of coffee waste, the company collects coffee grounds from large chains and restaurants as well as smaller coffee shops, and transports them to its processing plant in Cambridgeshire.

There, the grounds are dried and processed before being used to create products such as pellets or logs for biofuel, bio plastics or flavourings.

Drown forest fires in sound

Forest fires could one day be dealt with by drones that would direct loud noises at the trees below. Since sound is made up of pressure waves, it can be used to disrupt the air surrounding a fire, essentially cutting off the supply of oxygen to the fuel. At the right frequency, the fire simply dies out, as researchers at George Mason University in Virginia recently demonstrated with their sonic extinguisher. Apparently, bass frequencies work best.

The AI scientist

Cut off a flatworm’s head, and it’ll grow a new one. Cut it in half, and you’ll have two new worms. Fire some radiation at it, and it’ll repair itself. Scientists have wanted to work out the mechanisms involved for some time, but the secret has eluded them. Enter an AI coded at Tufts University, Massachusetts. By analysing and simulating countless scenarios, the computer was able to solve the mystery of the flatworm’s regeneration in just 42 hours. In the end it produced a comprehensive model of how the flatworm’s genes allow it to regenerate.

Although humans still need to feed the AI with information, the machine in this experiment was able to create a new, abstract theory independently – a huge step towards the development of a conscious computer, and potentially a landmark step in the way we carry out research.

Car batteries that charge in 10 minutes

Fast-charging of electric vehicles is seen as key to their take-up, so motorists can stop at a service station and fully charge their car in the time it takes to get a coffee and use the toilet – taking no longer than a conventional break.

But rapid charging of lithium-ion batteries can degrade the batteries, researchers at Penn State University in the US say. This is because the flow of lithium particles known as ions from one electrode to another to charge the unit and hold the energy ready for use does not happen smoothly with rapid charging at lower temperatures.

However, they have now found that if the batteries could heat to 60°C for just 10 minutes and then rapidly cool again to ambient temperatures, lithium spikes would not form and heat damage would be avoided.

The battery design they have come up with is self-heating, using a thin nickel foil which creates an electrical circuit that heats in less than 30 seconds to warm the inside of the battery. The rapid cooling that would be needed after the battery is charged would be done using the cooling system designed into the car.

Their study, published in the journal Joule, showed they could fully charge an electrical vehicle in 10 minutes.

Artificial neurons on silicon chips

Scientists have found a way to attach artificial neurons onto silicon chips, mimicking the neurons in our nervous system and copying their electrical properties.

“Until now neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside,” said Professor Alain Nogaret, from the University of Bath, who led the project.

“Our work is paradigm-changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.

“But it’s wider than that, because our neurons only need 140 nanowatts of power. That’s a billionth the power requirement of a microprocessor, which other attempts to make synthetic neurons have used.

Researchers hope their work could be used in medical implants to treat conditions such as heart failure and Alzheimer’s as it requires so little power.

Floating farms

The UN predicts there will be two billion more people in the world by 2050, creating a demand for 70 per cent more food. By that time, 80 per cent of us will be living in cities, and most food we eat in urban areas is brought in. So farms moored on the sea or inland lakes close to cities would certainly reduce food miles.

But how would they work? A design by architect Javier Ponce of Forward Thinking Architecture shows a 24m-tall, three-tiered structure with solar panels on top to provide energy. The middle tier grows a variety of veg over an area of 51,000m2, using not soil but nutrients in liquid. These nutrients and plant matter would drop into the bottom layer to feed fish, which are farmed in an enclosed space.

A single Smart Floating Farm measuring 350 x 200m would produce an estimated 8.1 tonnes of vegetables and 1.7 tonnes of fish a year. The units are designed to bolt together, which is handy since we’ll need a lot of them: Dubai, for instance, imports 11,000 tonnes of fruit and veg every day.

Pleistocene Park

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov hopes to recreate a 12,000-year-old environment in a wildlife park for herbivores like wild horse and bison, with extinct megafauna like mammoths replaced by modern hybrids. Zimov will study the impact of the animals on environment and climate.

Source: Future technology: 22 ideas about to change our world | BBC Science Focus Magazine


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How to Build a Water-Smart City

As water shortages and drought become increasingly common, cities will need to invest in infrastructure and find ways to recycle their supply.

Cities across time have stretched to secure water. The Romans built aqueducts, the Mayans constructed underground storage chambers, and Hohokam farmers dug more than 500 miles of canals in what is now the U.S. Southwest.

Today’s cities use portfolios of technologies to conserve supply — everything from 60-story dams and chemicals to centrifugal pumps and special toilets. And yet, the cities of tomorrow will have to do more.

A recent United Nations report on drought says climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of droughts, which contribute to food insecurity, poverty and inequality. The report also asserts that “drought has been the single longest-term physical trigger of political change in 5,000 years of recorded human history.” It calls for urgent action and a transformation in governance to manage modern drought risk more effectively.

Examples can be found globally. In 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, narrowly averted a “Day Zero,” when the taps would have run dry. Indian aquifers are falling fast. The Colorado River, a water source for 40 million people, faces dire shortages as the American West slides deeper into “megadrought.” By 2050, the world’s population is projected to near 10 billion, increasing water demand by 55%. And by then, two-thirds of people will live in cities.

Houseboats sit in low water on Lake Oroville on July 25, 2021, as California’s drought emergency worsens.
Photographer: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

“As cities continue to grow, they will have more water demand from many sectors: residential, industrial, ecological,” says Enrique Vivoni, a hydrologist at Arizona State University. “City planners have to think ahead, and not only 5, 10 years, but perhaps 50 or 100 years.”

Every place is different when it comes to preparing for these challenges, but some tactics are universally applicable enough that they can be united into a blueprint for the water-smart cities of tomorrow.

Recycle Water

Experts point to one way everyone on the planet can conserve water: Use it more than once. We recycle plastics and metals, but why not water? Dragan Savic, chief executive officer of KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands, believes recycling at home is a “huge” opportunity. Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West initiative, says onsite reuse is perhaps the best way to improve efficiency.

“If we think about the cities that we have right now, it’s pretty much a one-use system,” Ajami says. “So, water comes in, we use it once, it goes out. You flush down the toilet the same water that you drink, which is not very efficient, if you think about it.”

Homes should use water many times, according to Ajami. A multi-use approach is possible because several uses — landscaping, gardening and toilet water — don’t require drinking-quality water. Many of these needs can be met with greywater, meaning waste-free recycled water. As much as 75% of domestic water can be reused as greywater.

Installation of diverter valve for greywater system at new home construction site, California
A diverter valve for a greywater system is installed at a new home construction site in Los Angeles. A branched greywater system diverts discarded water from sinks and washing machines away from sewage lines, and recycles it back via a gravity-fed drain system for irrigation and back into the aquifer.
Photographer: Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Consider the toilet. Toilets account for up to 30% of indoor domestic water use. However, toilet water could be second use, routed from sinks, showers and dishwashers, cutting demand. Some cities are acting on this knowledge. Sydney, Australia, has designed Green Square, a town center designed for sustainability and water reuse, including as toilet water. Microsoft’s office in Herzliya, Israel, is routing greywater to toilets as well.

Greywater can also help meet water needs for landscaping, which comprises almost one-third of residential American water use. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that informed plant selection can save 20% to 50% of landscaping water. Proper irrigation can save even more.

Measure Usage

More precise data on water usage could also aid conservation. With better water metering, people might better understand their home usage, both indoors and outdoors.

“Water is less measured than other systems, like transportation,” KWR’s Savic says. “If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it.”

Ajami says she believes a “Nest-like device” that measures water usage by category could aid in such efforts. It might, for one, “let you know that you’re using too much water in the shower.” She also advocates for reforming water utilities themselves, since those companies profit from increased usage. Rate structures must be decoupled in a way that lets utilities recover their costs regardless of the water volume they sell.

“If you want to promote conservation, these utilities are not set for these consumption patterns,” Ajami says. “They’re selling you a commodity.”

Get Creative

As water becomes scarcer, some have even returned to the ancient art of rainwater harvesting, which can relieve pressure on surface water and groundwater sources if scaled broadly.

Cities across the globe are encouraging the practice, and, even in the driest of places, people have found a way to collect and store rain. In Tucson, Arizona, resident Brad Lancaster meets 95% of his water needs via rain. Many American cities offer financial incentives to people who install rainwater harvesting systems, making local water systems more resilient. In India, mandatory rainwater harvesting laws have arisen in some states and cities, like Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.

“Every drop of water we harvest from an alternative source is a drop of water we’re not taking out of the environment in a different way,” Ajami says.

Air conditioner condensate is another water source with potential, though it’s not likely to be a major contributor, especially in cities lacking humidity. Water is a byproduct of air conditioning. Places like the San Diego Airport and the Austin Public Library are collecting this water condensate and using it for power-washing, gardening and even brewing beer.

In the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., greater Phoenix, towns are ramping up reclaimed wastewater use, efforts that have led to some reduction in groundwater dependency. Similarly, Orange County in California has set records for reclaimed wastewater production. And in the desert city of Windhoek, capital of Namibia, reclaimed wastewater has been a vital water source for 50 years.

Desalination is another possibility. Turning salt water to fresh water has proven an important water source even in wet cities like London. The largest desalination plant in North America, in San Diego, produces tens of millions of gallons of freshwater per day. The process, however, is energy intensive and often uses fossil fuels (for now), meaning cities must balance costs and carbon emissions with their water needs.

Additionally, there are offsite water sources with narrower applicability, like the fog-catching machines of Lima, Peru. Even the International Space Station treats astronaut sweat, urine and breath moisture for water reuse.

Tackle the Underlying Cause

Cities can employ a range of solutions to tackle water scarcity, but climate change remains the root cause of many looming water issues. It drives supply-side water problems — lowering rivers, increasing evapotranspiration and disrupting precipitation patterns. If greenhouse gas emissions can be curbed, supply-side problems might be mitigated, according to water experts. (Demand, however, will continue to rise with population.)

Even so, some warming is already a certainty, and cities will need to become far more water efficient and invest in related education. Outdated pipes and water infrastructure must be updated. Savic emphasizes the need to equip water systems with cybersecurity. There are also a host of potential policy changes, including requiring buildings to reuse water, encouraging greywater systems, and pursuing innovative financing, like the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Fee that Tucson charges residents. That money funds rainwater capture systems and the development of green spaces.

“We are buildings future cities today,” says Ajami. “Every new development that goes up is going to be around for another 20, 40 or 100 years.”

When to build the necessary water-smart future cities? In a perfect world, 20, 40 or 100 years ago. But in our world, now.

By: Chris Malloy

Source: How to Build a Water-Smart City – Bloomberg


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The World’s Largest Ocean Cleanup Has Officially Begun

A floater from The Ocean Cleanup.

Ambitious dreams have now become a reality as the Ocean Cleanup deploys its $20 million system designed to clean up the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Check out another Forbes piece on how Ocean Cleanup aims to reuse and recycle the ocean plastic.

The floating boom system was deployed on Saturday from San Francisco Bay and will undergo several weeks of testing before being hauled into action. The system was designed by the nonprofit Ocean Cleanup, which was founded in 2013 by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat. Their mission is to develop “advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.”

The floating boom system, with the help of dozens of more booms, is estimated to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the first five years. Each boom will trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year as they float along the currents between California and Hawaii.

Read More:

The Ocean Cleanup Isn’t Capturing Plastic, But Organizers Are Testing A Solution

Founder Of Ocean Cleanup Vows Return, Says Failure Talk Is ‘Rubbish’

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vortex of trash created from an ocean gyre in the central North Pacific. The trash vortex was discovered in the mid-1980s and lies halfway between Hawaii and California.

Location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the subtropical convergence zone.

Location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the subtropical convergence zone.


The garbage patch is so large, it is easily detectable from space via satellites and covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometers and 1.8 trillion pieces of debris. The trash is collected and trapped within a circulating ocean current, called a gyre. This prevents the distribution of the garbage patch, a benefit when creating a system to collect the plastic.

The floating boom system, after undergoing testing, will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October and begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom to collect the plastic and transport it to land for sorting and recycling.

The idea is that the 10 feet of netting is not deep enough that fish can’t swim below it, with the hope that the boom will collect trash and not fish. However, this is something that remains to be seen in the open ocean.

While the organization has ambitious plans and the technology still remains unproven in the open ocean, they are the closest to a solution to cleaning up the garbage patch we have. No other company has a deployable system able to clean up the garbage patch on this scale.

The company is backed by some heavy hitters in the tech industry, including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Marc Benioff, the chief executive of

Continued testing and deployment of additional boom systems will help further refine the systems to be more efficient and less disruptive to ocean ecosystems.

Trevor Nace is a PhD geologist, founder of Science Trends, Forbes contributor, and explorer. Follow his journey @trevornace.

I am a geologist passionate about sharing Earth’s intricacies with you. I received my PhD from Duke University where I studied the geology and climate of the Amazon

Source: The World’s Largest Ocean Cleanup Has Officially Begun

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