By Robert F. Service
ScienceNOW Daily News

The push to ramp up biofuel production may reduce oil imports, but it's likely to come at a high environmental cost: It will boost the size of the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone, a huge swath so depleted of oxygen that almost nothing can live there, according to a new analysis.

It is true that trace amounts of birth control and other medications—as well as household and industrial chemicals of every stripe—are present in many urban and suburban water supplies around the country, but there is considerable debate about whether their levels are high enough to warrant concern. 

In 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tested water in nine states across the country and found that 85 man-made chemicals, including some medications, were commonly slipping through municipal treatment systems and ending up in our tap water. Another report by the Associated Press found trace amounts of dozens of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of some 46 million Americans.

Prenatal exposure to common air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has for the first time been strongly linked to decreased intelligence. PAHs are byproducts from burning organic material, and their primary source in cities is motor vehicle emissions. 

by Monya Baker

Genetic vector is off in differentiated cells, on in stem cells

Most techniques to identify reprogramming human cells rely on researchers who know exactly what they are looking for: colonies that look like human embryonic stem cells. A new technique that causes reprogramming human cells to glow green may help open up the field to more scientists.

By William Booth

"I admit it does sound crazy," says Michael Wong of his idea to use gold to clean up toxic waste. Wong plans to combine gold with palladium—an even more precious metal—to treat polluted groundwater beneath waste dumps and contaminated factories and military sites. "It not only works faster [than current methods], but a hundred times faster," Wong says, "and I bet it will be cheaper too."

A golden detergent? Here is Wong's trick: he creates nanoparticles of gold. In his realm, the work product is measured not in carats but in atoms. A thimbleful of coffee-colored solution contains 100 trillion gold spheres—each only 15 atoms wide, or about the width of a virus. Upon every golden nanosphere, Wong and his team dust a dash of palladium atoms. Think of an infinitely small ice-cream scoop flecked with sprinkles.

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This news service is provided by Good Samaritan Institute, located in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

GSI is a non-profit dedicated to the advancement of medical research by improving communication among scientists.