Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 August - 6 September 2006
Issue No. 810
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Life science

By Samir Sobhi

Our world comes with rules. Every action has a reaction, every poison its antidote, or so we would believe. These are the rules that we take on board when we explore, for purposes of self-preservation as well as out of curiosity.

Take, for example, the Nile, that great river that made civilisation simply a matter of time. The Nile is not what it used to be. The river has been the victim of pollution from industrial and chemical waste. Time was that the river cleansed itself by overflowing its banks every year during the flood. But then the Nile was tamed by massive dams. Its banks are now lined with the factories that we need to maintain our lifestyles. So what do we do? Already we are using filters and other sophisticated methods to protect the river from industrial pollutants but more efforts are needed. Help, apparently, is on its way.

Scientists have discovered that sugarcane fibres, a by- product of the sugar industry, can be used to purify water. A team led by Mohamed Abdel-Salam Ashour is developing an organic method to rid oil sediments from water. When treated with ammonia, sugarcane fibres can be used to trap oil sediments and then dissolve them, basically transforming them into bio-degradable material. The cost of the process is low and the results of the team's research have been hailed as a scientific breakthrough. Does this solve the problems of the Nile? Of course not. But it is a step in the right direction, bringing us closer to the day when science is harnessed to clean up the detritus of modern life.

This week's Soapbox speaker is Al-Ahram deputy editor-in-chief

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