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By Heather Callaghan | Natural Blaze
Lack of safe, drinkable water is still such a devastating problem around the globe. Not only does it result in mass, unnecessary death and disease, but finding water is an all-consuming, daily fight to end thirst. In other countries, the problem is the expense of importing harsh chemicals to treat the water.
While researchers were learning of ways to clean water in developing nations, they stumbled on a safer method, tried and true. The ancient Egyptian way.
Meet moringa oleifera seeds
In ancient Egypt, people used the crushed seeds of the Moringa oleifera tree to clear up cloudy water. Scientists later discovered that a protein in the seeds kills bacteria by gathering them into clusters which sink to the bottom of the container.
In a recent paper in Langmuir, researchers at Penn State announced that they’d solved a piece of the puzzle: how the protein kills the bacteria. It seems to fuse the membranes of the bacteria together. Membranes are designed to protect a cell, so when those defenses are breached, it’s bad news for the bacteria.
Here’s an image of how it works with crushed seeds, provided by Penn State researchers, “shaken or stirred”:
The Moringa oleifera tree grows abundantly throughout many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It reaches fruition in only six months and is already being used in many areas as a food source. The seedpods, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers are all edible and nutritious.
In addition to these benefits, something in the tree’s seeds has the ability to kill bacteria and clarify water.
“That has been known for some time,” says Stephanie Butler Velegol, environmental engineering instructor at Penn State. Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.
The water-clarifying ability of Moringa powder was found to be due to a positively-charged protein called the Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (MOCP). The cationic protein isolated from Moringa seeds kills water-borne bacteria by causing their cell membranes to fuse. This study revealed the mechanism by which MOCP turns polluted water into safe drinking water.
They offer this caveat:
However, the dried seed powder alone is not ideal for water purification because the organic matter from the seed will remain in the water, providing a food source for any bacteria that have not been killed. As a result, water treated with this seed does not remain safe to drink after some time in storage.
In 2012, Velegol and a team of Penn State researchers published a paper showing that MOCP can easily be attached to grains of sand. When the sand is mixed with unsafe water, bacteria stick to the sand and are killed. The newly-clean water can then be removed and stored for later use. Then the sand can be rinsed to remove the organic matter and “recycled” for another round of purification.
You may be interested to know that Moringa (which is also a popular superfood supplement for energy and cutting healing time) is available in North America as an extract, powder and seeds for eating and planting. Researchers thought the best time to harvest the seeds for planting was during its regions’ rainy seasons.
This article originally appeared on Natural Blaze.