Bottled at the source

Here is a fascinating article on a new science/art piece in London. It combines water quality, ethnohydrology, and art to label bottled tap water from districts in London with their likely contents– such as anti-depressants, cocaine, birth control hormones, and vitamins. Here is a snippet from the blog entitled “London Biotypes: Exploring Potential City- Body Ecology.”

The largest part of the pharmaceuticals and chemicals we take go through our bodies and eventually end up in waste water. As water and waste treatment plants haven’t been designed to filter them, the content of our medicine cabinets are eventually passed into the water supply. In London, tap water comes from surface water which implies that traces of our medicine can end up in our drinking water. This results in local differences in tap water, based on the food and drugs we ingest….

Using synthetic biology and in particular the biobricks tools, bacteria are programmed to become cheap biosensors. The bacteria-sensors, housed in the small transparent compartments, change colour when oestrogen, antibiotics, Viagra or Prozac are detected in the water. Since synthetic biology is both open source and modular, this instrument can be redesigned to detect other chemicals by any Urban Biogeographer, even amateurs as the technology is becoming increasingly accessible.

What are your thoughts on this new spin on bottled water? I’d like to try the sewage sampler myself?

[image from and the American Water Works Association]


2 responses to “Bottled at the source

  1. i talked about this article with a colleage in the water sector, and we both feel that the tap water is probably the same for all neighborhoods, because there is a central distribution system– unlike the local sewage = local water that the artist portrays.

    Don’t let that take away from this great art piece, it is just a detail overlooked

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