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‘Miracle Tree’ Substance Produces Clean Drinking Water Inexpensively And Sustainably

February 29, 2012

New American Chemical Society podcast

The latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) award-winning “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions” podcast series describes how the seeds of the “miracle tree” can be used to produce clean drinking water.

The new water-treatment process requiring only tree seeds and sand could purify and clarify water inexpensively and sustainably in the developing world, where more than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, scientists report.

Removing the disease-causing microbes and sediment from drinking water requires technology not always available in rural areas of developing countries. For an alternative approach, scientists looked to Moringa oleifera, also called the “miracle tree,” a plant grown in equatorial regions for food, traditional medicine and biofuel. The research appears in ACS’ journal Langmuir.

In the podcast, Stephanie B. Velegol, Ph.D., a researcher at Pennsylvania State University, explains that past research showed that a protein in Moringa seeds can clean water. One approach creates water that cannot be stored, and the other approach is too expensive and complicated. The researchers wanted to develop a simpler and less expensive way to harness the seeds’ power.

To do that, they added an extract of the seed containing the positively charged Moringa protein (which binds to sediment and kills microbes) to negatively charged sand. The resulting “functionalized,” or “f-sand,” proved effective in capturing lab-grown E. coli and damaging their membranes. The f-sand was also able to remove sediment from water samples. The results open the possibility that f-sand can provide a simple, locally sustainable process for producing storable drinking water, Velegol says.

The new podcast is available without charge at iTunes and from www.acs.org/globalchallenges.

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