By modifying a method used to flavor foods, researchers have made a substance that poisons the zebra mussel. That invasive species clogs water pipes that feed power plants and other facilities.
Around the Great Lakes and along much of the Mississippi watershed, facility operators lose about $1 billion each year to the mussel. They fight it with various toxicants, including chlorine and potassium salts.
Each mussel defense faces a test. "Either it's got to be toxic to zebra mussels and innocuous to other organisms, or you need to remove it or inactivate it" before it enters the environment, says Charles R. O'Neill of the New York Sea Grant at Cornell Un