“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”*…
Sometime in mid to late January, researchers from MIT plan to gather around a manhole on Portland Street in East Cambridge, dressed in plastic disposable biohazard coats and gloves. Each hour over the next 24, working in teams of two over four-hour shifts, they’ll sink a tube into the muck and pump one to two liters of sewage water into a plastic container. The container will be put into a cooler and taken to the nearby lab at MIT run by Eric Alm, a computational microbiologist. Alm’s lab will analyze all 24 of these sludgy samples to see what viruses and bacteria they hold; meanwhile, a vial of each sample will be sent to another lab to be analyzed for biomarkers (molecular or cellular flags for things like diseases and drugs, legal and illegal ).
These researchers—who include architects, computational biologists, designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, geneticists, and microbiologists—will be testing an idea that’s attracting interest around the world: namely, that sewage can tell us important things about the people who excrete it. Already, research has shown that sewage can reveal illicit drug usage, the presence of influenza, the poliovirus and other pathogens, and the state of community health. So far, however, none of this has been tested in our local waste systems, other than some proof-of-concept sampling done in Boston. That has led to this first formal effort by scientists and public health officials to get a sewage snapshot of the people of Cambridge…
Get to the bottom at “What does Cambridge sewage say about residents? MIT plans to find out.”
* Mel Brooks
As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1594 that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus was first performed (by Sussex’s Men at The Rose). Titus‘s premiere is the first performance of a Shakespeare play of which there is precise record (though confident deduction dates other plays’ performances earlier); it was recorded in Philip Henslowe‘s diary. It is also the only Shakespeare play for which a contemporary illustration survives, the work of a drawing master named Henry Peacham.