By oldhamdei76735407, Jan 18 2017 03:02PM
We’ve all seen a movie where a terrorist is going to contaminate a community’s water supply and the hero has to stop them. What happens though if the hero is too late? Thanks to University of Cincinnati scientist David Wendell, an associate professor at the University, we may not need to worry about contaminated water much longer. He has created a protein-based photocatalyst that uses light to generate hydrogen peroxide to eliminate E. coli, Listeria, and potentially protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium.
Wendell believes that if the protein (called StrepMiniSog) is mass produced, it could be used to “spike” public water supplies in the case of an outbreak. Explaining the protein, he said, “We designed this protein to attach to pathogens of interest using antibodies, so that when the attached photocatalyst is exposed to light it generates hydrogen peroxide and kills the pathogen.”
Wendell points out that his protein will neutralize viruses and bacteria in water without adding worrying contaminants, such as antibiotics or disinfection by-products, to the environment.
“In the environment or engineered water treatment systems there are many bacteria that you want to preserve. We need a disinfectant that can ignore helpful bacteria while neutralizing pathogens responsible for sporadic outbreaks. It is essentially a seek-and-destroy technology where it will only attach to the organisms of interest. By using a selective approach we can preserve existing microbiomes, which makes them more resistance to opportunistic pathogens.”
Currently, outbreaks are treated by increasing chlorine concentrations at water treatment plants. Too much chlorine however, can produce other types of water contamination, referred to as disinfection byproducts (which are regulated by the EPA). Certain bacteria, such as Legionella, are gaining resistance to Chlorine.
Wendell has received a $500,000 grant as part of an NSF CAREER Award earlier this year to develop a mass-production system for his protein-based photocatalyst. “I think it is feasible to have a mass-production technology in less than five years.”
Wendell also believes that his technology can be used as a personal disinfectant. Unlike the antibacterial products on the market now, which kill all types of bacteria, including the good ones, his would only target harmful pathogens. “The technology is also very useful for any sort of surface disinfection, including treating human skin.”