Posted by Anthony Deen
Science Fiction fan site io9.com has included the Gowanus in its list of the ten weirdest urban ecosystems on Earth. Listed along with Moscow’s Metro Dogs, SubTropolis, and the abandoned factory town of Gunkanjima, the Gowanus was one of only two American cities included in the list. In fact, most of the other urban ecosystems are not in a first world nation.
The Gowanus Canal:
This Brooklyn, NY canal is one of the foulest places on Earth, and it was recently named a federal Superfund site. As housewife Eda Figueroa told the New York Daily News, "Any fish that goes in there dies of poison or if it lives, it becomes a zombie." But the canal's extreme pollution, including cancer-causing agents, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Two City College professors, the Haque sisters, have discovered evidence that the canal's micro-organisms may have adapted to survive in such a toxic environment. Explains Nasreen Haque, "Despite the canal's toxicity, which includes cancer-causing chemical agents, microorganisms are surviving by adapting to the harsh environment there that shouldn't survive at all. Working in synergy, they seem to sense if nutrients are available; they exchange genes and secrete substances — some of which operate like antibiotics. I believe these substances may provide clues that lead to the development of new drugs to combat human disease." The canal's evolved organisms could provide the keys to curing Alzheimer's, heart disease or AIDS.
Photo by Damon Winter for the New York Times.