Algae with Artificial Intelligence Could Clean Wastewater in the Future

Researchers from Mendel University in Brno are currently working on the development of microalgae with artificial intelligence. Photo Credit: MENDELU

Brno, Sept. 26 (BD) – With the world’s dwindling water supplies, scientists are increasingly looking at how to treat wastewater more efficiently. One possibility for the future could be the use of microalgae with artificial intelligence, which is a line of research currently underway at the Faculty of Agronomy at Mendel University in Brno. Scientists are teaching algae to react to certain things, such as pollutants, by changing their chemical makeup.

“The basis of artificial intelligence is that it can recognise a problem on its own and then solve it specifically,” said Denisa Debnárová, a member of the research team from the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry at MENDELU.

Scientists want to use the ability to respond precisely to a specific stimulus to teach the single-celled microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to remove undesirable 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,” Debnárová explained.

In the project, the PhD student is first addressing hormonal pollutants that can be present in farm wastewater and human settlements, for example, from 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 whole water purification process should then work in such a way that the microalgae endowed with artificial intelligence react the moment the selected pollutant appears in the water. “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,” Debnárová continued. However, the algae should not react with other substances, so everything else should always remain in the water.

According to Debnárová, such purified water could be used, for example, to irrigate fields or, if the required quality is maintained, even to water animals. “Wastewater treatment is technologically demanding, so every economist quickly calculates that it is more profitable to irrigate with drinking water, for example. But this will not be a solution forever,” she said. As a result, microalgae could help to better manage the available water.

So far, the scientists are at the beginning of the project, trying to gently modify the living organism. The research will be carried out over the next few years.

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