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Digital Tech Boosts Water Purification in Singapore

Image credit: news.nus.edu.sg

Researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the French Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) worked together to make a special protein-mimic that can self-assemble into a pores structure. When included in a lipid membrane, the pores allow for the selective transfer of water while blocking the passage of salt (ions).

These protein mimics called “oliguoria foldamers,” are a whole new class of artificial water channels (AWCs) that can be used to make standard ways of industrial water purification use less energy.

Reverse osmosis and membrane filtration are two technologies that are used to clean water nowadays. Reverse osmosis, on the other hand, uses a lot of energy because seawater or wastewater must be forced through several semi-permeable membranes at high pressures to remove salts and other pollutants.

NUS researchers have created a new type of artificial water channel that makes industrial water purification more efficient. This is a clear example of how important digital technology is to current scientific progress.

The computational tools and simulations used during the research process are the link between digital technology and this innovative study. Researchers were able to build and improve these man-made water channels with a high level of accuracy and efficiency by using digital simulations and modelling.

Researchers use digital technology to model complicated chemical and physical processes, which helps them come up with and test new materials and structures. The computer simulations were a key part of figuring out how different channel structures would work with water molecules, which helped find the best design.

Also, digital technology makes it easier to analyse and display data, which lets researchers learn from the huge amounts of data created by experiments.

Because of climate change and the rising need for freshwater, there is a need for more water-selective membranes that use less energy and can be used for large-scale desalination. This invention is a great step forward in these attempts.

The relatively high-water permeability of the pores formed by these “oligourea foldamers” suggests that the total amount of energy required for water purification could be decreased.

The creation of membranes with aquaporins, which are naturally occurring proteins with pores that permit water molecules to pass through in a single file, has been the focus of this research. They are called “water channels” and can be found in the cell membranes of all living cells, including those of bacteria, plants, and animals.

Because aquaporin has a complicated structure, making enough of this big protein to use in water purification screens is still an expensive and time-consuming process. The research team headed by Professor Prakash Kumar has made substantial advancements in the development of simpler molecular components capable of self-assembling into pores-filled structures resembling transmembrane channels.

These structures are like aquaporins because they let water molecules through but keep salts and other pollution out. Unlike regular aquaporins, these smaller “oligourea foldamers” only have 10 amino acid residues, which makes them easier to change, make, and clean.

These amphiphilic foldamers have different charges, which lets them make complicated structures like magnets do. The resulting structures have water channels that look like pores and are held together by hydrophobic and electrostatic forces. This allows only some water to pass through membranes.

Since the foldamers are not easily broken down by enzymes, they could be used to make better screens for purifying water. After successful lab tests, the researchers want to figure out how to make more of these foldamers and test them in industrial water cleaning settings.


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