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Moringa technology removes toxins in water

Publishing Date : 31 October, 2016


Water is precious, and clean drinking water is valuable beyond compare. It is easy to lose sight of the value of water when it flows so conveniently from our taps. Yet it is no simple thing to supply more than a dam’s worth of clean drinking water to a thirsty nation. It takes science to figure out where tomorrow’s glass of water is going to come from. Fortunately the men and women of science in Botswana are up for the challenge.

Scientists at the University of Botswana’s chemistry department have explored deeply into the water cleaning properties of the moringa plant. It began in 2010 when a UB lecturer, Dr. Kwaambwa alongside two Swedish scientists published an article in the prestigious American Chemical Society journal. The article detailed the experiments carried out on the moringa plant and the conclusions reached. It was then that it was first brought to light that a protein extract from moringa seeds could be a feasible water treatment solution.

Since then the laboratories have been busy as UB chemists in their goggles and white lab coats sought answers to important questions. Questions like what impurities can the protein remove? How effective is it? Can turbid contaminated water become drinkable through use of moringa seeds alone? The answers were remarkable. Moringa seeds were demonstrated to be able to kill bacteria and clear murky brown water. The ability to clear murky water was attributed to a positively-charged protein called the Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (MOCP). When you crush the moringa seeds and add them to water, this protein will kill some of the microbial organisms and cause them to clump together and settle at the bottom of the container.

Though killing bacteria is impressive it does not make moringa seeds an extraordinary water cleaner for home use. It is well known that simply boiling water is good enough to kill harmful bacteria. Two drops of bleach such as jik in one litre of water can also make water safe to drink after allowing it to sit for a couple of days. Evidently, moringa seeds are not unique in their anti-microbial properties. What sets them apart is their ability to remove heavy metals from water, no amount of boiling or jik can remove heavy metals.

A journal article in the Oxford University Press points out that the main threats to human health from heavy metals are associated with lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), and arsenic (As). Continuous long-term exposure to those metals even at low concentrations has adverse health effects. The danger is subtle because people who drink contaminated water don’t immediately start falling sick. The toxic metals accumulate over time in their bodies and then years later they do not understand why they are suffering from joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, or diseases of the kidneys, circulatory system, nervous system, or even cancer.

Dr. Florence Nareetsile, an inorganic chemist and lecturer at UB was able to demonstrate using specialised analytical equipment that moringa seeds do in fact remove heavy metals. With moringa validated as an all round water cleaning resource the challenge is now to package it in a way which will serve Batswana best. More chemists are needed to continue the research effort. Mr. James Matshwele a recent graduate and teaching assistant at the UB chemistry department says anyone can be a chemist if they are dedicated enough and remember the three important rules of the chemistry lab. “Label clearly, measure twice, and eat elsewhere.”

Though UB chemists have paved the way, others can take up the mantle of creating water cleaning solutions from moringa seeds. Entrepreneurs can invest in development of moringa seed based water filters, businesses could sponsor the research being done, and the people can educate each other and plant moringa trees.



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