Euglena gracillis’ appetite for pollutants

Tim Lougheed reports for the Canadian Chemical News that an entrepreneurial effort based in the lake-dotted Peterborough region of Ontario is enlisting a strain of algae in an effort to make local water as clean as possible.

Euglena gracillis has an appetite for pollutants such as phosphorus, heavy metals and even silver nanoparticles.

The organism’s potential was first identified by Adam Noble several years ago, when he was a high school student worried about pollution in a nearby lake. When noticing how algae wreak havoc on aquatic environments by consuming all available nutrients, Noble began wondering if they could be altered to consume undesirable material instead.

After some informal experimentation in the family sauna, where he demonstrated that Euglena would consume particles of nanosilver, Noble began working with Trent University biology professor Neil Emery on a science fair project that would showcase the ability of this algae to do even more.

The result was definitive enough to warrant the founding of a company, Noble Purification, which is now designing a system that should eventually find its way into a working municipal wastewater stream. The firm is building a prototype of this system at the Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment, which is operated by Fleming College in Peterborough.

“The facility will give us the opportunity to test our idea on a larger scale,” says Andressa Lacerda, Noble’s chief operating officer and a PhD student at Trent. Lacerda notes that research so far has only dealt with batches of about 20 liters of water, but this new undertaking will scale that up significantly. Eventually, she wants to see the technology incorporated into Peterborough’s water treatment plant.

 

Photo: Adam Noble demonstrating his biofiltration technology at Trent University. Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI AGENCY file photo

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