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Keeping Water Clean With E. coli

NSF Award:

CAREER: Room Temperature Stabilization of Cellular Factories by Confinement: A Thermodynamic Approach  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

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Removing pesticides and herbicides from drinking water is essential for human health. Silica-polymer gels designed by researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis offer a new approach to successful removal of these substances from water sources. The gels encapsulate E. coli bacteria, which express an enzyme that can degrade atrazine--a herbicide used to treat corn crops--more quickly than current methods. 

Because the encapsulation technology keeps engineered organisms reactive for long periods of time, it enables their use as sustainable technologies in the bioremediation of pesticides and herbicides. This approach presents a unique advantage over traditional bioremediation, which is done by releasing microorganisms into the environment in an uncontrolled manner.

The porous silica matrix encasing the E. coli enables water and nutrient transport, while making it impossible for the release and transport of E. coli into the environment. Silica encapsulated organisms have been shown to be reactive at elevated levels for months, successfully converting atrazine to hydroxyatrazine, a nontoxic substance.

This research could encourage the development of sustainable technologies for bioremediation in wastewater management plants.


  • silica microspheres used to encapsulate reactive e. coli
Silica microspheres used to encapsulate reactive E. coli.
Alptekin Aksan, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

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