Jan 23, 2012

'Miracle Tree' Can Provide Inexpensive Water Purification Method in Developing Countries

Scientists publish research on use of seeds from Moringa oleifera

Scientists reported that a natural substance obtained from seeds of the "miracle tree" could purify and clarify water inexpensively and sustainably in the developing world, where more than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Research on the potential of a sustainable water treatment process requiring only tree seeds and sand appears in the American Chemical Society's journal “Langmuir.”

In the publication, Pennsylania State University professor Stephanie B. Velegol and colleagues explained that removing disease-causing microbes and sediment from drinking water requires technology not always available in rural areas of developing countries. For an alternative approach, Velegol looked to Moringa oleifera, also called the "miracle tree," a plant grown in equatorial regions for food, traditional medicine and biofuel. Past research had shown that a protein in Moringa seeds can clean water, but the approach was too expensive and complicated.

Velegol's team sought to develop a less expensive way to utilize the seeds. 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 killing harmful E. coli bacteria and removing sediment from water samples. "The results open the possibility that … ‘f-sand’ can provide a simple, locally sustainable process for producing storable drinking water," the researchers said.