It is in the Water — and Much More?

By John Antone Jaksich

Flint, Michigan has suffered without clean water for more than four years. Leaded water is the least of their worries? Image by John A. Jaksich

Water is crucial to life, it can be a vehicle that carries disease as well. A specific case is the agent known to cause a deadly form of pneumonia- legionella. The bacteria first gained notoriety in the late 1970s. In 1976, cases of an antibiotic resistant pneumonia struck in Philadelphia. Individuals attending an American Legion convention were struck ill. There were fatalities. The disease became known as legionnaire’s disease since it affected convention-goers at the American Legion convention.

While the above diseases are associated with Third World countries, they occur with greater frequency in the USA. Their occurrence is correlated with a neglect of social services and insufficient funding of infrastructure. However, there is a more hideous culprit; it is confluence of circumstances associated with an increasing temperatures, too. Copyright image by John A. Jaksich. All Rights Reserved.

While the cause of the pneumonia was mysterious, it took more than one year to pin down its mode of action — or how individuals were sickened. To this day, illnesses associated with legionella are not completely understood. [There are at least two known diseases associated with legionnaires’ bacteria: pneumonia and Pontiac fever.] However, through painstaking detective work, some common factors appeared: water and air conditioning units were involved. More mysteriously, the water was shown as plain tap water. Eventually, epidemiologists narrowed the causative factors as an aerosolization of bacteria-carrying water. Shockingly, chlorinated drinking water does not remove the bacterium in all cases. Normally, water is chlorinated to remove all traces of bacteria, but chlorination failed in this instance.

According to the U.S. EPA – “… if more prevalent bacteria and viruses are not present in the drinking water, then chlorination would have removed Legionella, as well …

So, we ruminate on potentially deadly diseases transmitted via a life-giving substance – water. The primary problems we face with water are poor infrastructure management. In fact, if we survey the potential number of diseases associated with water — the number and variety may astound us? From listeria to cholera to legionnaire’s to mosquitos infected with zika and west nile virus, it is a neglect of infrastructure coinciding with drastic climate change that proves problematic. It is no coincidence that rises in atmospheric and ocean temperatures trigger more cases of illnesses. To use an-oft quoted expression, we have a “perfect storm.”

While many individuals within the mainstream can not or don’t know how to accept that we are undergoing a drastic change, our fates appeared sealed with squabbling politicians whose only concern is money and wealth.

PARTS OF FLINT, MICHIGAN CONTINUE TO HAVE BAD WATER. IT HAS BEEN MORE THAT FOUR YEARS SINCE THE NEW WATER TREATMENT FACILITY HAS COME ON-LINE. DEATHS IN FLINT, FROM THE BAD WATER, CAME FROM LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE.

While Flint, Michigan continues to struggle with bad water, scientists and policy-makers continue to scratch their heads. The deaths in the poverty-stricken city are pushed to the back-pages of newspapers and not covered by the nightly news. The questions to ponder (according to this author), since Legionnaires’ is associated with higher temperatures, the likelihood of completely removing the bacterium from the water supply was not 100 percent.

Scientists now know that the legionnaires’ bacteria thrive in higher temperatures — even in chlorinated water.

Bibliography and sources

Water Purity and EPA standards: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations#three Accessed October 7, 2019.

Frontline PBS: Flint’s Deadly Water. aired: September 10, 2019 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/flints-deadly-water/

Aaron J. Prussin II, and others. Ten Questions Concerning the Aerosolization and Transmission of Legionella in Built Environment, Building Environment Journal 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29104349

Ronald S. Martin, and others. Isolation of Legionella pneumophila form hte blood of a patient with Legionnaires’ disease. Canadian Medical Association Journal 1984. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6388781

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Modifications to Photosynthesis: A Simpler Way to Energy Efficiency and Fine Chemicals

Photosynthesis is a biochemical cycle that produces oxygen and a simple sugar, glucose. In present research, scientists are learning to make photosynthesis a process that can displace commercial chemical production and as a replacement to fossil fuels. It is in photosynthetic processes that research is done to improve the chemical apparatus used by plants and bacteria—making the processes environmentally safer than commercial syntheses or energy production.

What is the Chemistry Behind Photosynthesis?

Many of us in the U.S. learn about photosynthesis in High School science classes as one fundamental chemical process. The process is portrayed by a single equation. Plants and bacteria produce oxygen (O2), water (H2O), and a simple sugar- glucose (C6H12O6) :

                                   6CO+ 12H2O + UV-Light —> C6H12O+ 6O+ 6H2O.

However, the one equation does not tell a complete story. Photosynthesis involves two fundamental processes that include hundreds of individual reactions –light  activated reactions and reactions occurring with no light activation. The two processes with numerous equations are known as biochemical cycles — the cycles of photosynthesis can be represented by the following chart:

Photosynthesis utilizes hundreds of distinct chemical reactions. Diagram of photosynthesis in the chloroplast of a leaf. Image from Brookhaven National Lab https://www.bnl.gov/chemistry/ap/images/Home_01_HR.jpg

How To Modify Photosynthesis?

While the question becomes- what reactions are most conducive towards modification? No plant- nor bacteria-based photosynthetic reaction is modified easily.

As researchers sought ways to modify photosynthesis, they did not find suitable mimicking reactions to take the place of natural photosynthetic reactions. Attempts modifying photosynthesis result with inefficient substitutes that cannot compete with plants, themselves.

One example is to replace biological apparatus of the Calvin cycle with a synthetic catalysts. The Calvin cycle produces a simple sugar- glucose, from carbon dioxide. Thus,

CO2 + H2O  –> C6H12O6.

While the reaction, as written, is not easy to fathom, biology performs the process simply. The plant or bacterium uses molecules called enzymes to push the carbon dioxide molecule to become a glucose molecule.  Enzymes are far larger than the molecules they catalyze. In this particular case, the enzyme surrounds the carbon dioxide molecule while the hydrogens and oxygens are added in one step.

Proposed analogous synthetic reactions use a metal catalyst to add 12 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms in separate steps to the carbon dioxide to make the simple sugar- glucose, C6H12O6. While researcher’s results showed the metal catalyst as ineffective, molecules, that can better mimic enzymes, are required.

Quoting from a publication of the American Chemical Society in 2017–researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley can be quoted “… it would be unreasonably hopeful to imagine we could currently capture all the performance capabilities of biological CO2 reduction…” Chemical processes of photosynthesis adapted to an almost static soil and mostly pure water over the course of billions of years– our current attempts pale in comparison. Knowing that sunlight shining on plants and other organisms is variable as well further confounds the issue.

The following table captures the essence of the argument of the previous three paragraphs:

Photosynthetic organisms with improved light harvesting capacities have light gathering efficiencies greater than 20 percent, are suitable for further alteration. Inorganic materials improve light harvesting. Research continues in this area. Image by John A. Jaksich

Thus, researchers improve light harvesting actions of organisms. Of all aspects related to photosynthesis, organisms efficiently harvest only 3 percent light. The 3 percent number is the biggest reason to approach photosynthesis research to improve light harvesting

Modifications to Photosynthesis Understood from a ‘First Principles Approach’

Cybernetic modifications to photosynthesis is as confusing as black hole physics-- both possessing a sense of a new frontier.
Humanity has entered a new age– learning to alter its larger environment– anthropocene. The age of man (or anthropocene) gives us choices that can save us from potential extinction. Modifications to photosynthesis push the frontiers of science into areas that may prevent our eventual extinction. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

When discerning ways to modify photosynthesis, scientists are left with one easy option. The improvement of light-gathering efficiency is addressed because the photosynthetic apparatus shuts out more light that it can handle. Given that plants and bacteria respond to increased light through the slow evolutionary processes that spawned their genesis, we proceed with evolution in mind. When increased light normally coincides with growth and carbon dioxide uptake, we take it one step at a time. Once light gathering efficiency is improved, scientists can take the next step: the discernment of plant photo-biochemistry and chemistry.

The present course of climate change has made research in this area a major concern. Of late, average yearly temperature changes appear to increase exponentially. When the year 2050 arrives, we may not possess the luxury of accepting fossil fuels as our source chemistry dependence–if we are still around to do so.

ADDITIONAL READING & REFERENCES

GARY F. MOORE and GARY W. BRUDVIG. Annual Reviews in Condensed Matter Physics. 2010, Energy Conversion in Photosynthesis: A Paradigm for Solar Fuel Production.

ICHIRO TERASHIMA, et. al. Plant Physiology. 2011,Leaf Functional Anatomy in Relation to Photosynthesis.

PEIDONG YANG and JEAN-MARIE TARASCON. Nature Materials, 2012, Towards Systems Materials Engineering.

CHONG LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water splitting–biosynthetic system with CO2 reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis.

NIKOLAY KORNIENKO, et. al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016, Spectroscopic elucidation of energy transfer in hybrid inorganic–biological organisms for solar-to chemical production.

J. BLOEMEN, et. al. Acta Horticulturae. 2013, Understanding Plant Responses to Drought: How Important is Woody Tissue Photosynthesis?

C. LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water Splitting-Biosynthetic System with CO2 Reduction Efficiencies Exceeding Photosynthesis.

STUART A. WEST, et. al. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. 2002, Sanctions and mutualism stability: why do rhizobia fix nitrogen?

KELSEY K. SAKIMOTO, et. al. Accounts of Chemical Research. 2017, Cyborgian Material Design for Solar Fuel Production: The Emerging Photosynthetic Biohybrid Systems.

A Day in the Anthropocene

While the images like the Aurora borealis (seen below) are common to many of us. A lot of us recognize it as a scientific phenomena – It is one where the magnetic field of the Earth is excited by solar particles of our Sun.

The phenomenon is viewed as beautiful, and feelings of warmth and love are attributed to its viewing.

In many ways, there is a dichotomy to understanding our world. One of feeling and sentiment and one of analytical understanding based upon rationalism.

The dichotomy of the views present a problem– one can be said to think of the world in one of two ways. However, we can rectify the dichotomy. Rectifying the views requires wisdom.

This wisdom we need utilizing both rationalization and emotional/feeling — bringing together both to an understanding.

The present solutions to our problems are based upon concepts of Sustainability. Will we be wise enough to use the Paradigm of Sustainability to ensure that our progeny can thrive?

HOPE and BELIEF in a GREATER GOOD

Can wisdom sustain humanity’s future? Image by John A. Jaksich.

Many problems that require humanity’s wisdom begin with solutions based upon hope. In this present era, it is known as the (era of Man) Anthropocene. It is fraught with pain and anxiety.

This Era of Man is a wake-up call for all.

Whether it is a La Nina driven hurricane slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula or an extreme high tide inundating the Florida Keys, the effects of human-driven climate change will affect more than just local populations.  From journals to popular best-sellers, our planet’s challenges are documented.

Answers for the Anthropocene are based upon Sustainability—

Sustainability is the means of meeting the needs of the present while preserving biodiversity and the natural ecosystems for future generations.

A major issue surrounding the paradigm of sustainability is the lack of a crystal ball that the approach is meant to address. Let’s face it, when addressing the preparedness of humanity to take on disasters of their own making, our own track record is poor. Putting it succinctly: We can not solve today’s problems with yesterday’s technologies.  

I do have hope, however. I will not give in nor surrender.