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uni'wissen 01-2015

water and manage to spread through the environ- ment, they can damage animals and plants that live in the water – and thus pose a threat to the aquatic ecosystem. “Up until fairly recently we didn’t know exactly what substances are present in waste water,” reports Sané. Thanks to better detection tech- niques, however, it is now possible to detect pollutants even in very low concentrations. In the future, this will probably lead to stricter regula- tions for this area. The hazardous substances can even make their way into tap water, says Sané, although she doesn’t yet see any acute danger for humans. Estrogen from birth control pills, for instance, which is excreted in urine, thus making its way into our waste water, can cause gender changes or infertility in fish. Other harmful substances excreted in urine include antibiotics, substances from painkillers, and contrast media for medical imaging. Ointments for soothing pulled muscles or bruises enter into our waste water when we “The project is still in its infancy – but I think it really will be possible to make the idea work.” Like mold on fruit juice: The fungus can be cultivated on a liquid culture medium. Photo: IMTEK uni wissen 01 2015 There are currently two challenges to purifying waste water: the great amount of energy involved and micropollutants,” says Sabine Sané. The doctoral candidate at the Department of Micro- systems Engineering (IMTEK) of the University of Freiburg has thus come up with a method for breaking down waste water pollutants that could previously only be removed with great difficulty and could potentially alter the ecosystem – and at the same time her method can be used to generate energy. The astounding thing about Sané’s idea is that she wants to achieve both of these goals with the help of the same bracket fungus, Trametes versicolor. It produces a versatile enzyme that is capable of breaking down micropollutants. At the same time, it can help a so-called biofuel cell to produce electricity in the waste water. “It actually seems too good to be true,” finds the biologist. “The project is still in its infancy – but I think it really will be possible to make the idea work.” As one of four researchers to win the international “Future Water” prize in July 2014, Sané has now received the opportunity to implement her idea. Awarded by the Huber Technology Foundation, the prize is worth a total of 10,000 euros. So-called micropollutants are characterized by the fact that they only appear in very small dosages. “But that doesn’t mean they’re harmless,” warns Sané. When they are not broken down in “ 2929292929 uni wissen 012015