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Toilet Microbes Could Remove Hormones From the Water Supply

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The effects of pharmaceutical drugs reach far beyond our own bodies. Plenty of hormones and other chemicals found in medications end up in our pee and get flushed into the sewage system, contaminating water supplies and negatively affecting the ecosystem. There are trace amounts of antibiotics, hormones like estrogen—though mostly from sources other than hormonal birth control, like agricultural waste and soy products—and other pharmaceutical by-products that wastewater treatment plants don’t filter out. Over generations, these chemicals can affect the fertility of fish and frogs, among other environmental impacts.

One potential solution: a bacterial coating that would live in your toilet. As part of a student competition called the Biodesign Challenge, inventors Amanda Harrold, Kathleen McDermott, Jacob Steiner, and Perrine Papillaud of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York came up with the concept for Live(r) Clear, a living enzyme membrane designed to block pharmaceuticals from making their way into the sewage system, Popular Science reports.

Designed to act like “living wallpaper,” the toilet liner would coat the bowl “with enzymes capable of breaking down estrogen, so that less of it is sent to wastewater treatment plants,” co-creator Kathleen McDermott told mental_floss in an email. The idea is that the estrogen-eating microbes would live in a honeycomb structure made of something like silicone. It would adhere to the sides of the toilet bowl, trapping the hormones in the water before they end up down the pipes.

It’s just a speculative design for now, but the students are looking to incorporate enzymes similar to those used by the human liver, such as one called CP450.

The students are one group of many art and design students competing to show off their bio-inspired, futuristic projects at the Biodesign Summit in New York City in June.

[h/t Popular Science]

All images via the Biodesign Challenge unless otherwise noted.

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In-Flight Bidets Could Be the Next Big Thing in Plane Design
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There are plenty of things to hate about flying, but having to repeatedly use a public (and very tiny) bathroom over the course of several hours is up there. That could change in the near future, though. Travel + Leisure reports that Zodiac Aerospace, a manufacturer of plane cabin interiors, is working on a fancy plane toilet like no other—outside of private jets, that is. Yes, it's a toilet with a built-in bidet.

Zodiac debuted its new design at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. The company's latest and greatest toilet, which you can operate from a remote control that would be installed on a wall of the bathroom, features an adjustable water spout that retracts and can provide a nice spray for both the front part of your undercarriage and your back end. For those who understandably worry about germs on their airplane toilets, it comes with a special UV light to disinfect the loo.

According to Travel + Leisure, Zodiac's bidet-equipped toilets will most likely appear first on airlines based in places like Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, where bidets are more commonplace. The design might not be so appealing to airlines in the U.S., which is strangely averse to two-in-one toilet/butt-washing technology.

It's rare to see a plane upgrade that's actually good news for travelers. While there is the occasional proposal that might make economy travel more comfortable—like a design that would make middle seats wider and more accessible, or a seat that could alert the crew if you're having a panic attack mid-air—most new proposals would make flying even more of a nightmare than it already is, like a seat Airbus proposed in 2014 that would put passengers essentially in rows of bicycle seats for their entire flights.

Zodiac hasn't announced whether a specific plane or airline already plans to put this upgraded toilet into use, so it could be a while before you get to use it for yourself. Sorry, butts.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Bathroom Hand Dryers Might Be Blasting Us With Poo Particles
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Using a public restroom can be a stressful experience. People inevitably shake the flimsy stall doors to check for occupancy. Soap can be missing and gastrointestinal noises can be heard. Now, a new study has found that the perils of public voiding may not end at the sink. The wall-mounted hand dryers—often believed to be a sanitary solution—could be blasting fecal bacteria right back on your hands.

Published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the report looked at 36 bathrooms at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Samples of bacterial colonies were taken on plates. A typical bathroom air sample averaged less than one colony, while plates positioned underneath a hand dryer for 30 seconds averaged 18 to 60 colonies per plate.

Researchers aren't yet sure whether the dryers are actually harboring bacteria or simply sucking it up and then blowing a concentrated amount back out: Swabs of dryer nozzles had only minimal bacteria levels. Researchers found that installing a HEPA filter in the dryers dramatically reduced their bacterial load.

Bacteria in a public bathroom are likely coming from nearby toilets, which don't have lids and can release fecal particles when flushed. So what do you do if you don't want weaponized poo on your freshly washed hands? Avoid the dryer and stick with paper towels. But for relatively healthy people who aren't immunocompromised, a few blasts of contaminated air probably won't harm you.

[h/t CBS Pittsburgh]

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