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Microbial Roundup

June 13, 2008

Futuristic silver nanoparticle washing machines may disinfect your laundry, but they’re also harmful to the environment.


Is your dirty laundry killing sea life? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Silver nanoparticles are deadly to most bacteria. Now there are new clothes washers that produce the particles, to disinfect clothes. But researchers at the University of Missouri have found that the particles make their way into wastewater treatment facilities. There they kill the beneficial bacteria that normally clean the water. The researchers also worry about what will happen when the particles get into rivers, lakes and oceans.

In other microbe news, when cells in the body die, they break apart into bits, and a molecule that’s normally inside them is exposed. When healthy cells nearby sense the molecule, they eat the bits of dead cell. Now, Swiss researchers have found that the vaccinia virus has the same molecule on its outer coat. The healthy cells take the vaccinia inside, like a Trojan Horse. Once inside the cell’s defenses, the virus can attack. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.