Tree seeds could help purify drinking water

A new, natural way to purify drinking water using the seeds from a tropical tree species could lead to cheaper, more efficient purification processes in the developing world, scientists believe. Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden say proteins extracted from Moringa oleifeira seeds can sift out impurities in water and bind them together into clusters called flocs, making them easier to separate and remove.

Moringa oleifeira, which is widely cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions including India, Africa and Latin America, already has a variety of uses – it’s a reliable food source for humans and livestock, and its extracts can be turned into medicine. Now scientists say these seed proteins should be used in water treatment plants to optimise the purification process – in both the developed and the developing worlds.

“We can envisage that similar materials could be used in Europe both to produce drinking water and to treat waste water,” said Professor Adrian Rennie, a member of the team at the University of Uppsala.

In this project, the team used research facilities at the Institut Laue-Langevin in France and the NIST Center for Neutron Research in the USA. This allowed them to use neutron scattering techniques to unlock the secrets of the seed proteins.

“Neutrons are an ideal tool for understanding the internal structure of these complex organic aggregates thanks to a contrast matching technique that only highlights the protein components absorbed to the particles,” said Dr Lionel Porcar of the Institut Laue-Langevin.

There is currently a need to develop more sustainable methods of water treatment, in order to meet the requirements of a growing world population. Last month, a £5 million recycling plant opened in Bonnyrigg, Scotland, which uses recycled glass such as beer and wine bottles to create a filtration system that removes parasites and pollutants from water.

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