Could AI-powered algae be the secret weapon to fight wastewater?

Research: Using AI could save clean water resources.

October 4, 2022

2 Min Read

Research: Using AI could save clean water resources.

Scientists have combined AI with algae in a bid to clean wastewater.

Researchers from Mendel University in Brno, the Czech Republic are working on training microalgae to respond to materials like pollutants. They’re teaching the single-celled microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to rid unwanted substances from wastewater.

“Specifically, my project is based on synthetic modification. I want to bind a specific receptor on the surface of the microalgae that would allow the organism to react to selected substances in the water,” explained Denisa Debnárová, a Ph.D. student working on the project.

In the initial phase, she’s looking at the hormonal pollutants in farm wastewater and human settlements, like hormonal contraceptives.

“But my goal for the future is to develop a protocol that can be used for different types of pollutants. We are starting with hormones, but certainly, the microalgae could also be modified for toxic dyes, antibiotics, and other substances,” said Debnárová. 

The algae, using AI methods, could automatically identify and react when it detects a certain pollutant in the wastewater. The algae would not alter anything else in the wastewater if it doesn’t find the polluting substance.

“If we put the algae in ordinary water, nothing would happen. But as soon as the selected substance appears in it, the algae itself evaluates the problem and starts to solve it by targeting the pollutant, which greatly simplifies the technology of water purification,” added Debnárová.

There are a few uses for the treated water. Irrigating fields and watering animals are a couple of possible solutions.

Debnárová said that economists have decided that it’s more profitable to handle irrigation with drinking water. However, clean water resources are limited and wastewater treated with AI-powered algae could help alleviate the pressure on natural supplies.

Currently, the scientists are working on altering algae as a living organism and the project is expected to continue for several years.

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