Water fleas key to cleaner environment and better human health

Pchły wodne

According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK, modern wastewater management could be revolutionized by water fleas – tiny organisms that live in a wide variety of environments. Water purification with their help appears to be not only effective, but also highly economical and environmentally friendly. The technology is already in a phase of intensive development.

Efficient water treatment – a priority and a challenge

According to the European Investment Bank, 380bcm is generated globally every year. municipal wastewater. Projections warn that this infamous figure will increase by another 24 percent by 2030, and by as much as half by 2050. Continued demographic growth, intensive urban development and dirty industrial technologies are obviously to blame. The crisis is also exacerbated by ongoing climate change and agriculture, which is still lagging behind sustainability goals.

As a result, persistent chemical pollutants continually enter wastewater, and in view of the limited possibilities for capturing them in treatment plants, they are released into rivers. They continue to travel to water bodies, irrigation systems and the aquifer, eventually making their way into our food and water supply. Water treatment is therefore a social, economic and environmental priority. Already, every year, 92 million people experience health problems due to water pollution.

Water fleas and their extraordinary potential

At the end of September this year, the journalScience of the Total Environmentpublished an article describing the groundbreaking study. An international team of researchers, led by the University of Birmingham, has proposed a new biological way to treat wastewater. It is based on water fleas. The proposed method is expected to effectively eliminate pesticides, industrial chemicals and pharmacological substances without releasing toxic byproducts, which are a real problem at many treatment plants.

The innovative water treatment, proposed by Birmingham researchers and powered by water fleas, is expected to increase the availability of clean, safe water for households and agricultural and industrial facilities. As a result, safer food, especially agricultural crops, can be expected. The solution meets the globally pushed strategy of efficient wastewater recycling and active protection of aquatic ecosystems.

What are water fleas?

Water fleas is the colloquial term for the fleadaphnia (Daphnia pulex), a small, freshwater crustacean belonging to the genusDaphnia. Measuring 0.2 to 3 mm, the organisms are difficult to identify with the naked eye, but are common in many bodies of water and rivers in Europe and North America. Water fleas feed on microscopic particles of organic matter, including bacteria, filtering them out of the water with their thoracic legs.

For ecologists, Daphnia has long been an object of interest as an important element of biological balance in aquatic ecosystems. This is because, on the one hand, water fleas create freshwater plankton, which is food for many other species; on the other hand, they intensively support the self-cleaning process of lakes, ponds and rivers, consuming especially troublesome excess algae.

Water fleas vs. water purification – how does it work?

In the study in question, we were able to isolate very specific varieties of Daphnia with varying tolerance to chemical contaminants. This task was made possible by the daphnia’s unique ability to remain dormant for hundreds of years. Scientists have awakened populations that previously managed to survive various stages of industrial contamination and used them to combat today’s problems.

The four varieties of flea daphnia selected by the researchers have been shown to effectively remove diclofenac (a common painkiller often detected in surface waters), atrazine (an herbicide that causes fertility disorders in many species of mammals, reptiles and fish), arsenic, and perfluorinated compounds (PFOS), or so-called “PFOS”. eternal chemicals combined, among others. With cancer processes and impaired immunity.

Water purification by water fleas is, according to the lead author of the study in question, Dr. Mohammed A. Abdallah, a solution based on nature’s potential and offering the prospect of permanently removing compounds of concern to ecologists from ecosystems. After the trial stage, Daphnia can be used in wastewater treatment plants around the world. Importantly, their ability to clonally reproduce allows us to assume long-term effects of the experiment. Water flea populations should be able to persist in watercourses for a long time, for the benefit of modern society.

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