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Businessweek Archives

Fighting Mosquitoes With Pond Scum

Developments to Watch


MOSQUITOES ARE MORE than an annoyance. Worldwide, mosquito-borne illnesses infect about 700 million people a year and kill 3 million. But a Florida researcher has come up with a novel way to control the little buggers--put them on a diet.

Dov Borovsky, an insect biologist at the University of Florida at Vero Beach, says he has perfected a diet pill that alters mosquito digestion, making it impossible for them to feed and lay eggs. He synthesizes the hormone that switches the mosquito's digestive system on and off. In the lab, the hormone is absorbed by chlorella algae, a green scum found in ponds and swamps. The modified algae is reintroduced where mosquitoes breed, and the bugs and larvae feast on the algae and starve to death within 72 hours.

Borovsky says the starvation approach, unlike pesticides, does not alter the environment, and mosquitoes don't become resistant to the hormone because the chlorella stops producing it within three weeks. He expects to have his "diet pill" on the market within a year.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


CEMENT-EATING BACTERIA are among the main causes of the deterioration of bridges, roads, and other structures. But their taste for concrete can be turned to good account: The same microbes may be used to decontaminate nuclear plants by eating away the radioactivity from the concrete structures.

The naturally occurring bacteria produce a chemical that dissolves concrete, loosening the contaminated material on the surface of a structure. Both the loosened contamination and the microbes can then be vacuumed off, making cleanup safer and less costly. Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Co. in Idaho Falls, Idaho, working in partnership with British Nuclear Fuels PLC, has successfully completed a preliminary test and says a second, large-scale trial with the bacteria is under way at a contaminated warehouse in Idaho. Results are expected in May. A Lockheed spokesman says the goal is to market the technology within one to two years.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


IBM GRABBED HEADLINES IN OCTOBER BY ANNOUNCING it will use copper instead of aluminum for circuit lines on its chips. Many analysts figured IBM had leapfrogged its competition. In fact, all the major chipmakers have been developing copper-circuit technology for years, and suppliers of chipmaking equipment began introducing systems for printing copper circuits last year. Motorola Inc. actually beat IBM to the punch--revealing without fanfare in September that its own laboratory line for making copper-chip prototypes has been running since the spring.

Now, Texas Instruments Inc. has jumped on the copper bandwagon, with perhaps the most innovative technology yet. Copper's big advantage is its exceptional conductivity, which means copper lines can shrink to ethereal widths too thin to carry a signal in aluminum. But there's a hangup: Copper readily "bleeds" into surrounding silicon, which could short-circuit two closely spaced lines. Chipmakers have spent a bundle hunting for better insulation. While IBM and Motorola are being cagey about their choice of insulation, TI is trumpeting its answer: glass bubbles.

These "xerogel" bubbles, made from silicon dioxide, are really tiny--a mere 0.001 microns across. You would need 100,000 of the bubbles to span the stump of a human hair. They are small enough to coat circuit lines, which are expected to shrivel to 0.1 microns by 2010, enabling chips to be crammed with 500 million transistors--almost 100 times today's mightiest chips.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST Otis PortReturn to top

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