Moringa oleifera

Moringa! More than meets the eye

We rightly ponder the problem of future food security – in which plants, plant science, and plant scientists (in the broadest sense of that term) have a big part to play. However, just as pressing is concern over sufficiency of fresh – i.e. clean, disease-free, drinkable – water for those hungry humans.

Moringa oleifera
Moringa oleifera (pods and seeds on ground). Image Forest and Kim Starr / Wikipedia

Traditionally, one way of cleaning-up water that’s not fit for human consumption has been to use the moringa plant (Moringa oleifera) as a sort of waterpurifier. Although that can be effective, it leaves behind high amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), from the seeds that are used to clean the water. That DOC can act as a food source that permits and sustains the regrowth of bacteria after 24 hours. Thus, water cleaned by the traditional moringa technique is only drinkable for a limited period after treatment, i.e. it has a short ‘shelf-life’.

Taking that good idea and making it better is what Brittany Nordmark et al. have done. They show that proteins extracted from moringa seeds can be adsorbed to the surface of silica particles (‘sand’) where their positive charges act to attract both negatively-charged DOC and micro-organisms that contaminate the water. This f-sand* system thus has great potential as a relatively cheap – but much-improved – version of the traditional moringa water-purification method, which can be readily made (as this video shows) in places where it’s needed.

Any problems?

Well, one I see is that to ‘recharge’ the f-sand for reuse you need to wash out the adhered DOC and other undesirables. Presumably that means with clean water, whose supply is the problem in the first place. And, once reset, what do you do with this now-dirty water? But, there’s even more to moringa than just a natural water-purifier. So much more in fact that it has been called the Miracle Tree and is associated with both nutritional and properties, claims and benefits.

One tree that can help solve two of humanity’s greatest insecurities – getting enough of the right kind of food, and access to fresh water (and a third if you include its medicinal virtues…). What’s not to like?

*The ‘f’ of which term apparently stands for ‘antimicrobial functionalized’.

Nigel Chaffey

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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