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Gainesville Representative introduces bill to protect waterways

Maia Botek
News Feed
Monday, November 15, 2021

“Nearly a million acres of estuaries and 9,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state of Florida are verified impaired for fecal indicator bacteria,” Berman said. “Thirty-five percent of the verified impaired bodies have been on the impaired list for at least eight years.”

A state representative from Gainesville filed a bill that could raise awareness about the quality of Florida’s waterways. HB 393 Public Bathing Places was filed by Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson of District 20 with SB 604 Safe Waterways Act by Democratic Sen. Lori Berman of District 31 and is now awaiting committee review. 

If passed, the legislation would require the Department of Health to create water quality testing procedures and schedules, post proper signage for contaminated bodies of water and redefine public bathing areas to include fresh, salt and brackish water used for swimming, diving or bathing.

“We’re trying to target areas where human beings tend to swim; but where human beings tend to swim, marine life tends to swim too, '' Hinson said. “We've had difficulty getting the current legislature to acknowledge climate change, which is one of the factors of what's happening to our water.” 

The bills are identical and were written with the assistance of the Calusa Waterkeepers, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting Florida’s coastal waterways. State and county departments routinely test water quality, but there are inconsistencies in signage and alerting the public, specifically inland, according to Berman.  

“Nearly a million acres of estuaries and 9,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state of Florida are verified impaired for fecal indicator bacteria,” Berman said. “Thirty-five percent of the verified impaired bodies have been on the impaired list for at least eight years.”

While Berman and Hinson said they are concerned about water quality, local officials have varying opinions about the legislation’s environmental impact for Alachua County. Lake Wauburg, one of the county’s three public bathing areas, has previously closed and issued warnings due to elevated levels of E. coli.

“I anticipate maybe one to possibly two more places that we might have to review results and issue advisories,” said Anthony Dennis, Alachua County’s environmental health director. “If there's a situation where we have to issue an advisory, is that gonna make the environment any better?” 

Hinson and Berman said the signage would likely be inexpensive to enact and could increase awareness about issues of contamination, something Dennis and Greg Owen, a Senior Planner within the water resources division at the Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection, agree with. 

“If it brings attention to areas that are lacking or susceptible to bacteria contamination, I could see it as being a good thing for raising that awareness,” Owen said. 

Berman said she hopes that with enough notification, the public will become alarmed and motivate local departments to take action in addressing the sources of contamination. 

Both bills are awaiting review, and Hinson and Berman must lobby committee chairs to include their respective bills in upcoming meeting agendas. In order to be presented to the governor, bills must pass through three committees and both houses of Florida’s Legislature. 

Because the bills are identical, only one needs to be signed by Gov. DeSantis in order to become a law, but updates and edits to one bill must be reflected in the other. 

On Nov. 3, the Senate referred Berman’s bill to the Environment and Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Appropriations committees and on Nov. 5, the House referred Hinson’s bill to the Professions & Public Health Subcommittee, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. 

The bills are expected to be voted on when the committees meet for session in January.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of
Maia Botek

Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor student at the University of Florida who has grown up in South Florida throughout her entire life. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and part-Norwegian mother, an understanding of cultures, diversity and the world around her has always been an important facet in Maia's life which has resulted in a love of the environment, travel and education. She loves spending time outdoors and with friends, especially at the beach, which she loves. Maia is interested in utilizing journalism to educate others on the importance of the Earth's natural resources and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Convening for cultural change

At MIT and internationally, senior Cindy Xie works to bring people together for the health of humanity and the planet.

Whether working with fellow students in the Netherlands to design floating cities or interning for a local community-led environmental justice organization, Cindy Xie wants to help connect people grappling with the implications of linked social and environmental crises.The MIT senior’s belief that climate action is a collective endeavor grounded in systems change has led her to work at a variety of community organizations, and to travel as far as Malaysia and Cabo Verde to learn about the social and cultural aspects of global environmental change.“With climate action, there is such a need for collective change. We all need to be a part of creating the solutions,” she says.Xie recently returned from Kuala Lumpur, where she attended the Planetary Health Annual Meeting hosted by Sunway University, and met researchers, practitioners, and students from around the world who are working to address challenges facing human and planetary health.Since January 2023, Xie has been involved with the Planetary Health Alliance, a consortium of organizations working at the intersection of human health and global environmental change. As a campus ambassador, she organized events at MIT that built on students’ interests in climate change and health while exploring themes of community and well-being.“I think doing these events on campus and bringing people together has been my way of trying to understand how to put conceptual ideas into action,” she says.Grassroots community-buildingAn urban studies and planning major with minors in anthropology and biology, Xie is also earning her master’s degree in city planning in a dual degree program, which she will finish next year.Through her studies and numerous community activities, she has developed a multidimensional view of public health and the environment that includes spirituality and the arts as well as science and technology. “What I appreciate about being here at MIT is the opportunities to try to connect the sciences back to other disciplines,” she says.As a campus ambassador for the Planetary Health Alliance, Xie hosted a club mixer event during Earth Month last year, that brought together climate, health, and social justice groups from across the Institute. She also created a year-long series that concluded its final event last month, called Cultural Transformation for Planetary Health. Organized with the Radius Forum and other partners, the series explored social and cultural implications of the climate crisis, with a focus on how environmental change affects health and well-being.Xie has also worked with the Planetary Health Alliance’s Constellation Project through a Public Service Fellowship from the PKG Center, which she describes as “an effort to convene people from across different areas of the world to talk about the intersections of spirituality, the climate, and environmental change and planetary health.”She has also interned at the Comunidades Enraizadas Community Land Trust, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Wildlife Fund U.S. Markets Institute. And, she has taken her studies abroad through MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). In 2023 she spent her Independent Activities Period in a pilot MISTI Global Classroom program in Amsterdam, and in the summer of 2023, she spent two months in Cabo Verde helping to start a new research collaboration tracking the impacts of climate change on human health.The power of storytellingGrowing up, Xie was drawn to storytelling as a means of understanding the intersections of culture and health within diverse communities. This has largely driven her interest in medical anthropology and medical humanities, and impacts her work as a member of the Asian American Initiative.The AAI is a student-led organization that provides a space for pan-Asian advocacy and community building on campus. Xie joined the group in 2022 and currently serves as a member of the executive board as well as co-leader of the Mental Health Project Team. She credits this team with inspiring discussions on holistic framings of mental health.“Conversations on mental health stigma can sometimes frame it as a fault within certain communities,” she says. “It’s also important to highlight alternate paradigms for conceptualizing mental health beyond the highly individualized models often presented in U.S. higher education settings.”Last spring, the AAI Mental Health team led a listening tour with Asian American clinicians, academic experts, and community organizations in Greater Boston, expanding the group’s connections. That led the group to volunteer last November at the Asian Mental Health Careers Day, hosted by the Let’s Talk! Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In March, the club also traveled to Yale University to participate in the East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference alongside hundreds of attendees from different college campuses.On campus, the team hosts dialogue events where students convene in an informal setting to discuss topics such as family ties and burnout and overachievement. Recently, AAI also hosted a storytelling night in partnership with MIT Taara and the newly formed South Asian Initiative. “There’s been something really powerful about being in those kinds of settings and building collective stories among peers,” Xie says.Community connectionsWriting, both creative and non-fiction, is another of Xie’s longstanding interests. From 2022 to 2023, she wrote for The Yappie, a youth-led news publication covering Asian American and Pacific Islander policy and politics. She has also written articles for The Tech, MIT Science Policy Review, MISTI Blogs, and more. Last year, she was a spread writer for MIT’s fashion publication, Infinite Magazine, for which she interviewed the founder of a local streetwear company that aims to support victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.This year, she performed a spoken word piece in the “MIT Monologues,” an annual production at MIT that features stories of gender, relationships, race, and more. Her poetry was recently published in Sine Theta and included in MassPoetry’s 2024 Intercollegiate Showcase. Xie has previously been involved in the a capella group MIT Muses and enjoys live music and concerts as well. Tapping into her 2023 MISTI experience, Xie recently went to the concert of a Cabo Verdean artist at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. “The crowd was packed,” she says. “It was just like being back in Cabo Verde. I feel very grateful to have seen these local connections.”After graduating, Xie hopes to continue building interdisciplinary connections. “I’m interested in working in policy or academia or somewhere in between the two, sort of around this idea of partnership and alliance building. My experiences abroad during my time at MIT have also made me more interested in working in an international context in the future.”

This Supreme Court Term, Health and Safety Are on the Line

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will release several opinions that implicate the health and safety of every American. Citizens may believe that the court’s decisions are far removed from their everyday lives. But this term, at least, they will hit close to home. From the environment, to medical care, to the hot-button issues […]

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will release several opinions that implicate the health and safety of every American. Citizens may believe that the court’s decisions are far removed from their everyday lives. But this term, at least, they will hit close to home. From the environment, to medical care, to the hot-button issues of guns and abortion, over the past year the court took up a string of cases that will affect how well we live—and how long.  The vast and critically important implications of these coming rulings pose a key question: Should judges be the ones deciding the rules and regulations that so intimately affect Americans’ lives? In case after case, the court is contemplating overruling decisions made by Congress and administrative agencies to protect Americans’ safety. One of the most critical cases this term raises that very issue: who in government gets to decide detailed questions about our medical care, drug safety, chemicals in the air and water, food safety, and much more? It’s likely that in a pair of cases this term, the justices will decide that the best people to make those decisions are unelected judges—and ultimately, the justices themselves. The Chevron case puts thousands of regulations related to Americans’ health and safety at risk. In a set of cases challenging a fishing regulation, the justices are considering whether to end or limit a principle of judicial decision-making called Chevron Deference, under which judges defer to administrative agencies if the law is ambiguous and the agency interpretation is reasonable. The rule was enshrined in the 1984 case Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council, but “this practice of deferring to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes was well established in the case law handed down by the Supreme Court” by the mid-1940s, says Miriam Becker-Cohen, an appellate counsel at the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.  The case implicates thousands of regulations promulgated every year, many having to do with Americans’ health and safety. In an amicus brief, the American Cancer Society warned that deference is critical to the administration of Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which together provide healthcare to nearly half the US population. Agency experts, they argued, are best positioned to interpret statutory terms like “geographic area,” “costs incurred,” and “nursing-related services.” Given the amounts of money spent on health care, without Chevron, litigation would abound. “The resulting uncertainty would be extraordinarily destabilizing, not just to the Medicare and Medicaid programs but also—given the size of these programs—to the operational and financial stability of the country’s health care system as a whole,” the brief warns. The effects of sunsetting Chevron would go far beyond healthcare. Civil rights groups warn that laws protecting minorities in housing, employment, and financial services could be gutted by newly-empowered judges. Agencies, guided by scientists and other experts, work to protect Americans from toxic chemicals, to keep air and water clean, maintain food safety, and on and on. “Is a new product designed to promote healthy cholesterol levels a dietary supplement, or a drug?” Justice Elena Kagan asked during oral arguments, raising just one hypothetical question that, if Chevron were overruled, might transfer from doctors to judges. With changes this broad, everyone’s safety would be implicated. “When the administrative state falls into a sinkhole, or quicksand, because of this court,” Georgetown Law professor Michele Goodwin warns, it will impact how people “actually have a healthy and, in fact, even joyful life.” Guns are another issue critical to Americans’ health and safety. In 2017, a gunman used semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks to fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas. A bump stock is a firearm accessory that turns a semi-automatic rifle into a continuously firing weapon that discharges dozens of bullets in seconds. In 11 minutes, the shooter struck 500 people, killing 60—the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history. In the aftermath, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms banned bump stocks by defining them as illegal machine guns. In Garland v. Cargill, the justices are weighing whether to overturn that decision. Such a ruling by the court would allow Americans to own, for all intents and purposes, automatic weapons. One need only look to Las Vegas to understand the cases’ significant potential to impact Americans’ health and safety.  Lawmakers say ending the bump stock ban would “shackle” Congress’ ability to keep people safe. In a second major gun case, the justices are considering whether a federal law barring firearm possession by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders violates the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Victims of domestic abuse rely on the law to survive. “As one study found, the risk of intimate-partner homicide increases 500% when abusers have access to a firearm,” an amicus brief submitted by domestic violence prevention groups states. “Another determined that an average of seventy (70) women are shot and killed by intimate partners per month.” When Congress decided to ban gun possession by abusers in 1994, it had found that domestic violence was “the leading cause of injury to women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44,” and that “firearms are used by the abuser in 7 percent of domestic violence incidents.”  In a brief submitted by Democratic members of Congress, lawmakers argued that invalidating the ban would “shackle” Congress’ ability to keep people safe, and render it “unable to develop innovative solutions for the benefit of the public.” Moreover, they warn, such a decision would “generate a wave of litigation” challenging other public safety-minded gun restrictions “that will burden the courts and hamper legislatures’ ability to address public safety needs.” Public health and safety are closely tied to the environment. This term, the court heard a challenge to an EPA rule intended to protect against air pollution under the Clean Air Act. The case involves the legality of the Good Neighbor provision, which protects downwind states from harmful pollution originating in upwind states. According to the EPA, the rule will “improve air quality for millions of people living in downwind communities, saving thousands of lives, keeping people out of the hospital, preventing asthma attacks, and reducing sick days.” In 2026 alone, the agency estimated that the rule would prevent around 1,300 premature deaths and 2,300 hospital and emergency room visits, cut asthma symptoms by 1.3 million cases, and eliminate 430,000 school absence days and 25,000 lost work days. But after oral arguments in February, the court’s Republican-appointed majority appeared ready to block the provision. The case arrived at the court following a complex series of lawsuits, and the justices agreed to hear the challenge on an emergency basis, short-circuiting the lower courts. Should the Supreme Court decide to halt the EPA’s rule, it will have gone out of its way to impede environmental safety when the issue could have been left to the normal judicial process. In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), to stop hospitals from “dumping” uninsured or poor patients who showed up in need of emergency care. In 2022, Idaho banned all abortions unless the mother’s life was at risk. This conflicted with EMTALA, which requires an abortion when it is the necessary treatment to stabilize a health emergency, even when the mother’s life isn’t immediately in peril. Now, the Supreme Court is deciding whether states can subject pregnant women to undergo severe medical crises—up to and including death—in their radical crusade to end abortions. The court is deciding whether states can subject women to medical crises—including death. The effects of abortion bans on women’s health are already apparent two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The EMTALA case is about the most extreme examples: people whose safety, bodily organs, and lives are in danger yet are being denied care as a result of state abortion bans. Already, stories of women hemorrhaging in bathrooms, spending days in the ICU, and being airlifted across state lines fill the news. Failure to provide an abortion in critical cases can lead to loss of the uterus, kidney failure, stroke, hemorrhage, and death. This is a health emergency created by the Supreme Court—and if oral arguments are an indication, it will only worsen when it rewrites federal law to remove the right to emergency abortion care for pregnant people. The EMTALA case is not the only abortion case the court is deciding. The other centers on access to mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortions, which, after Roe, have become the most common way to end a pregnancy. In order to stop them, a group of pro-life doctors argued that the FDA improperly okayed the drug more than two decades ago. For technical legal reasons, the justices appear unlikely to limit access to the drug this term. But the case is likely to return on stronger footing soon, and whatever its disposition, the threat such attempts represent to public health is enormous: access to safe abortions improve health and economic outcomes for women, while bans imperil women’s health.  In each of these cases, the court is contemplating doing serious harm to health and safety by undoing an action by Congress or agency experts regulating at the behest of Congress, shifting control over life and death decisions from the elected branches of government to the courts. Perhaps the most terrifying phrase about today’s government is: I’m a Supreme Court justice and I’m here to help.

Plastic Invasion: Microplastics Found Lodged in Human and Dog Testicular Tissue

University of New Mexico researchers found microplastics in human and canine testicular tissues, raising concerns about reproductive health. The study discovered 12 types of microplastics,...

Researchers detected significant microplastics in human and dog testes, with potential links to reduced sperm count. The findings highlight the need for more research on the impact of microplastics on reproductive health and encourage lifestyle changes to minimize exposure.University of New Mexico researchers found microplastics in human and canine testicular tissues, raising concerns about reproductive health. The study discovered 12 types of microplastics, with higher levels in humans and correlations between PVC and lower sperm counts in dogs.Scientists at the University of New Mexico have detected significant concentrations of microplastics in the testicular tissue of both humans and dogs, adding to growing concern about their possible effect on human reproductive health.Researchers reported finding 12 types of microplastics in 47 canine and 23 human testes in a new paper published in the journal Toxicological Sciences. The research team was led by Xiaozhong “John” Yu, MD, PhD, MPH, a professor in the UNM College of Nursing. “Our study revealed the presence of microplastics in all human and canine testes.”— Xiaozhong “John” Yu, MD, PhD, MPH, UNM College of Nursing“Our study revealed the presence of microplastics in all human and canine testes,” Yu said. The team was also able to quantify the amount of microplastics in the tissue samples using a novel analytical method that revealed correlations between certain types of plastic and reduced sperm count in the canine samples.Yu, who studies the impact of various environmental factors on the human reproductive system, said heavy metals, pesticides, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals have all been implicated in a global decline in sperm count and quality in recent years. A conversation with his colleague Matthew Campen, PhD, a professor in the UNM College of Pharmacy who has documented the presence of microplastics in human placentas, led him to wonder whether something else might be at work.“He said, ‘Have you considered why there is this decline (in reproductive potential) more recently? There must be something new,’” Yu said. That led Yu to design a study using the same experimental method Campen’s lab had used in the placenta research.Research Process and ResultsHis team obtained anonymized human tissue from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, which collects tissue during autopsies and stores it for seven years before disposing of it. The canine tissue came from City of Albuquerque animal shelters and private veterinary clinics that perform spay-neutering operations.The team chemically treated the samples to dissolve the fat and proteins and spun each sample in an ultracentrifuge, leaving a nugget of plastic at the bottom of a tube. Then, heated the plastic pellet in a metal cup to 600 degrees Celsius. They used a mass spectrometer to analyze gas emissions as different types of plastic burned at specific temperatures.In dogs, the average concentration of microplastics in testicular tissue was 122.63 micrograms per gram of tissue (a microgram is a millionth of a gram). In human tissue the average concentration was 329.44 micrograms per gram – nearly three times higher than in dogs and significantly higher than the average concentration Campen found in placental tissue.“At the beginning, I doubted whether microplastics could penetrate the reproductive system,” Yu said. “When I first received the results for dogs I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I received the results for humans.”Implications and Future ResearchThe researchers found the most prevalent polymer in both human and canine tissue was polyethylene (PE), which is used to make plastic bags and bottles. In dogs that was followed by PVC, which is used in industrial, municipal, and household plumbing and in many other applications.The team was able to count the sperm in the canine samples (but not in the human ones, which had been chemically preserved) and found that higher levels of PVC in the tissue correlated with a lower sperm count, Yu said. There was no correlation with tissue concentration of PE, however.“The plastic makes a difference – what type of plastic might be correlated with potential function,” he said. “PVC can release a lot of chemicals that interfere with spermatogenesis and it contains chemicals that cause endocrine disruption.”The study compared human and canine tissue for a couple of reasons, one being that dogs live alongside people and share their environment. They also share some biological characteristics.“Compared to rats and other animals, dogs are closer to humans,” he said. “Physically, their spermatogenesis is closer to humans and the concentration has more similarity to humans.” Canine sperm counts also seem to be dropping, he added. “We believe dogs and humans share common environmental factors that contribute to their decline.”Environmental Impact and ConcernsMicroplastics result when plastic is exposed to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight and degrades in landfills. It can be blown about by the wind or carried into nearby waterways, and some bits are so small they are measured in nanometers (a billionth of a meter). They’re now ubiquitous in the environment – even as global use of plastics continues to grow. Yu noted that the average age of the men in the OMI autopsy samples was 35, meaning their plastics exposure began decades ago, when there was less plastic in circulation. “The impact on the younger generation might be more concerning,” now that there is more plastic than ever in the environment, he said.Moving ForwardThe findings point the way for additional research to understand how microplastics might affect sperm production in the testes, he said. “We have a lot of unknowns. We need to really look at what the potential long-term effect. Are microplastics one of the factors contributing to this decline?”In disseminating his findings, Yu doesn’t want anyone to panic. “We don’t want to scare people,” he said. “We want to scientifically provide the data and make people aware there are a lot of microplastics. We can make our own choices to better avoid exposures, change our lifestyle and change our behavior.”Reference: “Microplastic presence in dog and human testis and its potential association with sperm count and weights of testis and epididymis” by Chelin Jamie Hu, Marcus A Garcia, Alexander Nihart, Rui Liu, Lei Yin, Natalie Adolphi, Daniel F Gallego, Huining Kang, Matthew J Campen and Xiaozhong Yu, 15 May 2024, Toxicological Sciences.DOI: 10.1093/toxsci/kfae060

How Right Wing Commentators Are Pushing Raw Milk Misinformation

On sites like Infowars, Gab and Rumble, federal concerns about raw milk are seen as overreach, but there are serious health risks and no scientifically proven benefits.

Health officials are warning Americans not to drink raw milk as bird flu spreads through American cows. But some media figures and influencers are misleadingly suggesting that the product is safe or even healthier than traditional milk. And sales are growing.Commentators on sites like Infowars, Gab and Rumble have grown increasingly vocal about raw milk in recent weeks. They see the government’s heightened concerns about the dangers as overreach.“They say: ‘Bird flu in milk! Bird flu in milk! Oh, it’s the scariest thing!’” Owen Shroyer said on the April 29 episode of his “War Room” podcast from Infowars. He added: “They’ll just make raw milk illegal. That’s what this is all about.”Public health officials have long warned Americans of the severe health risks that can come with drinking raw milk instead of pasteurized milk, which is heated to kill bacteria, viruses and other germs. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 200 disease outbreaks linked to unpasteurized milk from 1998 to 2018, leading to 2,645 illnesses, 228 hospitalizations and three deaths.In the United States, there have been only three reported human cases of this avian flu virus, which has led to the death of 90 million of the nation’s farmed birds and recently spread to cows. None of these human cases have yet been tied to drinking milk, but a study published on Friday found that milk contaminated with the virus was rapidly making mice sick. Contrary to claims, there’s little or no evidence that drinking raw milk provides health benefits, including protection from certain infectious diseases, said Dr. Megin Nichols, the deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the C.D.C. The Food and Drug Administration says pasteurizing milk kills the virus.Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

“Electronic Spider Silk” Sensors: Revolutionizing Bioelectronics With Eco-Friendly Technology

Cambridge researchers have developed lightweight, eco-friendly sensors, inspired by spider silk, that seamlessly integrate with biological surfaces for diverse applications in health monitoring and virtual...

Researchers have developed a method to make adaptive and eco-friendly sensors that can be directly and imperceptibly printed onto a wide range of biological surfaces, whether that’s a finger or a flower petal. Credit: University of CambridgeCambridge researchers have developed lightweight, eco-friendly sensors, inspired by spider silk, that seamlessly integrate with biological surfaces for diverse applications in health monitoring and virtual reality.Scientists have developed a method to make adaptive and eco-friendly sensors that can be directly and imperceptibly printed onto a wide range of biological surfaces, whether that’s a finger or a flower petal.The method, developed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, takes its inspiration from spider silk, which can conform and stick to a range of surfaces. These ‘spider silks’ also incorporate bioelectronics, so that different sensing capabilities can be added to the ‘web’. Advanced Sensor TechnologyThe fibers, at least 50 times smaller than a human hair, are so lightweight that the researchers printed them directly onto the fluffy seedhead of a dandelion without collapsing its structure. When printed on human skin, the fiber sensors conform to the skin and expose the sweat pores, so the wearer doesn’t detect their presence. Tests of the fibers printed onto a human finger suggest they could be used as continuous health monitors.This low-waste and low-emission method for augmenting living structures could be used in a range of fields, from healthcare and virtual reality, to electronic textiles and environmental monitoring. The results are reported today (May 24) in the journal Nature Electronics.VIDEOResearchers have developed a method to make adaptive and eco-friendly sensors that can be directly and imperceptibly printed onto a wide range of biological surfaces, whether that’s a finger or a flower petal. The fibers, at least 50 times smaller than a human hair, are so lightweight that the researchers printed them directly onto the fluffy seedhead of a dandelion without collapsing its structure. Credit: University of CambridgeAlthough human skin is remarkably sensitive, augmenting it with electronic sensors could fundamentally change how we interact with the world around us. For example, sensors printed directly onto the skin could be used for continuous health monitoring, for understanding skin sensations, or could improve the sensation of ‘reality’ in gaming or virtual reality applications.Challenges in Wearable TechnologyWhile wearable technologies with embedded sensors, such as smartwatches, are widely available, these devices can be uncomfortable and obtrusive. They can also inhibit the skin’s intrinsic sensations.“If you want to accurately sense anything on a biological surface like skin or a leaf, the interface between the device and the surface is vital,” said Professor Yan Yan Shery Huang from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who led the research. “We also want bioelectronics that are completely imperceptible to the user, so they don’t in any way interfere with how the user interacts with the world, and we want them to be sustainable and low waste.”VIDEOResearchers have developed a method to make adaptive and eco-friendly sensors that can be directly and imperceptibly printed onto a wide range of biological surfaces, whether that’s a finger or a flower petal. When printed on human skin, the fiber sensors conform to the skin and expose the sweat pores, so the wearer doesn’t detect their presence. Tests of the fibers printed onto a human finger suggest they could be used as continuous health monitors. Credit: University of CambridgeInnovations in Flexible ElectronicsThere are multiple methods for making wearable sensors, but these all have drawbacks. Flexible electronics, for example, are normally printed on plastic films that don’t allow gas or moisture to pass through, so it would be like wrapping your skin in cling film. Other researchers have recently developed flexible electronics that are gas-permeable, like artificial skins, but these still interfere with normal sensation, and rely on energy- and waste-intensive manufacturing techniques.3D printing is another potential route for bioelectronics since it is less wasteful than other production methods, but leads to thicker devices that can interfere with normal behavior. Spinning electronic fibers results in devices that are imperceptible to the user, but without a high degree of sensitivity or sophistication, and they’re difficult to transfer onto the object in question.Now, the Cambridge-led team has developed a new way of making high-performance bioelectronics that can be customized to a wide range of biological surfaces, from a fingertip to the fluffy seedhead of a dandelion, by printing them directly onto that surface. Their technique takes its inspiration in part from spiders, who create sophisticated and strong web structures adapted to their environment, using minimal material.The researchers spun their bioelectronic ‘spider silk’ from PEDOT:PSS (a biocompatible conducting polymer), hyaluronic acid, and polyethylene oxide. The high-performance fibers were produced from water-based solution at room temperature, which enabled the researchers to control the ‘spinnability’ of the fibers. The researchers then designed an orbital spinning approach to allow the fibers to morph to living surfaces, even down to microstructures such as fingerprints.Tests of the bioelectronic fibers, on surfaces including human fingers and dandelion seedheads, showed that they provided high-quality sensor performance while remaining imperceptible to the host.“Our spinning approach allows the bioelectronic fibers to follow the anatomy of different shapes, at both the micro and macro scale, without the need for any image recognition,” said Andy Wang, the first author of the paper. “It opens up a whole different angle in terms of how sustainable electronics and sensors can be made. It’s a much easier way to produce large area sensors.”Future Directions and CommercializationMost high-resolution sensors are made in an industrial cleanroom and require toxic chemicals in a multi-step and energy-intensive fabrication process. The Cambridge-developed sensors can be made anywhere and use a tiny fraction of the energy that regular sensors require.The bioelectronic fibers, which are repairable, can be simply washed away when they have reached the end of their useful lifetime, and generate less than a single milligram of waste: by comparison, a typical single load of laundry produces between 600 and 1500 milligrams of fiber waste.“Using our simple fabrication technique, we can put sensors almost anywhere and repair them where and when they need it, without needing a big printing machine or a centralized manufacturing facility,” said Huang. “These sensors can be made on-demand, right where they’re needed, and produce minimal waste and emissions.”The researchers say their devices could be used in applications from health monitoring and virtual reality, to precision agriculture and environmental monitoring. In future, other functional materials could be incorporated into this fiber printing method, to build integrated fiber sensors for augmenting the living systems with display, computation, and energy conversion functions. The research is being commercialized with the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization arm.Reference: “Imperceptible augmentation of living systems with organic bioelectronic fibres” 24 May 2024, Nature Electronics. DOI: 10.1038/s41928-024-01174-4The research was supported in part by the European Research Council, Wellcome, the Royal Society, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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