And other modest proposals from the cutting edge of science
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Dispatches, November 1998
Once, there was a world without velcro, devoid of Gore-Tex, and oblivious to the joy of a titanium fork. Believe it or not, people actually survived in that world. Someday, however, it’ll be even harder to imagine life without the following ingenious new breakthroughs. Please hold your laughter — they’re still in R&D.
Like Viagra, but for Sandstone
“I’m envisioning a legion of backpackers out there with spray cans,” says Harry Kurtz. Last summer, the Texas biologist and a colleague discovered an interesting property of a photosynthetic bacterium that resides in cliffs along the Colorado Plateau. It secretes a starchy polysaccharide that acts like, well, Scotchgard for rocks, protecting sandstone from wind and rain. Why
Deploy the Hairball
Alabama beautician Phillip McCrory was glued to his TV, watching an oil-soaked sea otter flounder in a pool of Exxon Valdez crude, when he was struck by an epiphany. The creature’s fur seemed to be mopping up petroleum like a sponge. Would human hair do the same? To find out, McCrory stuffed a pair of his wife’s nylons with clippings, tossed them into his son’s wading pool, and
Up the Proverbial Creek
“We find it exciting!” says Debra Windish, spokesperson for the Michigan-based biotech firm MBI. “It turns sewage into pure water.” The “it” in question is the aptly named Shewanella putrefaciens, a bacterium, discovered last summer by microbiologists at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology, that in the process of digesting wastewater generates minute electrical