This plant might be the answer to water pollution we've been searching for.

Arsenic, once used in pesticides, has been a worry across the U.S. for many years. Food production pollution and natural contamination (arsenic is found in certain rock) has contaminated water and food across the country, from Maine to California's Central Valley.

But one recent scientific breakthrough could help clean up water for good.

Image via iStock.


Meet the arsenic-eating power of warnstarfia fluitans, better known to the outdoorsy as floating hook moss.

Aquatic moss in Stockholm University greenhouse. Photo by Arifin Sandhi, used with permission.

It's mostly found in the Great Lakes region, but floating hook moss also has a home in northern Sweden. That part of Sweden has been the home of iron mining for years, and a type of iron pyrite called arsenopyrites piles up and leaches arsenic out into water supplies. Researches at Stockholm University observed the floating hook moss living in the contaminated water, in water no plant should be able to survive in.

"We thought that this plant could be used as an arsenic phytofilter plant species in a constructed wetland system," says Arifin Sandhi, a doctoral candidate at the university.

Could this moss clean up the water?

In general, plants are extremely effective at cleaning up heavy metals and poisons, which they evolve as a defense mechanism. They take it out of their environment, bind it up in their tissues, and essentially bury it inside themselves. As long as we don't eat it for a snack, and as long as the plant stays alive, it's effectively gone.

The researchers discovered that the floating hook moss not only sucks up arsenic, it sucks it up faster than you can watch your favorite TV show.

When introduced into a container of water with dangerous levels of arsenic, the moss filtered 80% of the chemical out of the water in less than an hour.

Image via Hermann Schachner/Wikimedia Commons.

Even more surprising was that the moss seemed to thrive in the arsenic. It continued to live and grow with as much as double the arsenic it takes to kill other types of moss.

Why does it suck up so much arsenic so fast? Theories abound, and we'll have to wait for molecular biologists to weigh in for any clear answers. The most likely theory, at the moment, is that the moss does it as a form of immunization. By taking in the arsenic and incorporating it into its tissues, it both reduces the chances of the arsenic damaging it externally and gives every branch of the moss a better chance to survive.

This mighty moss has the potential to quickly clean up water sources far beyond northern Sweden.

With it's poison-sucking abilities, the floating hook moss could be used in special gardens planted and grown near sources of pollution. In several towns in France, for example, these handpicked gardens are so good at their jobs that when you reach the final outlet for their sewage treatment plants, you can take a nice dip in the water and never even know where it came from.

The moss is found across the planet, so there's not a huge risk of introducing an invasive species to natural waterways. That said, care will have to be taken that the moss doesn't run out of control, but its speed means that it can be introduced and removed far faster than machine-based solutions.

We don't have to accept the pollution of the past (or present) as the way of the future.

We can do our part by petitioning to build pollution-guzzling gardens and, in places where we can grow aquatic gardens and where we know they won't be invasive, growing them ourselves.

We can make changes, often faster and more powerfully than we thought possible with a little help from the Earth itself.

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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