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Purify water by adding bacteria

The U.S. Army is sending to Afghanistan units of a new water purification system that uses common bacterial strains to create potable water in less than a day.

Sabin Holland
Sabin Holland, lead scientist for the bacteria-based water purification system, calls his solution revolutionary. Sam Houston State University's research was funded by the Department of Defense. Sam Houston State University

Fans of old Chinese martial-arts dramas will have heard of the saying "use poison to combat poison." I've always considered that to be ridiculous, but it turns out the idea is ahead of its time, as now you can purify water using bacteria.

Forget what you know about bacteria and germs. Bacteria is not evil, it's just another simple organism trying to survive and propagate. Researchers at Sam Houston State University in Texas have successfully designed a portable water purification system that uses a set of common bacterial strains to create potable water in less than a day. This is impressive, as current systems require up to a month and create toxic waste as a byproduct.

"The system is based on a proprietary consortium of bacteria--you can find them in a common handful of dirt," said lead scientist Sabin Holland, who works for the Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies at Sam Houston State. "In the right combination and in the right medium, they have the capability to clean polluted water with a very high efficiency very quickly."

The bacteria filters the water, then consumes the sludge that would otherwise have ended up as toxic waste in conventional water-purification machines. The first two units, housed in standard 20-foot shipping containers, are being transported by the Army to Afghanistan to be deployed in rugged terrain. Holland sees earthquake-devastated Haiti as another possible test bed for this system. But already we can see how this could revolutionize water distribution in arid areas.

(Source: Crave Asia)