Water research at the University of Glasgow

Biodesalination: from cell to tap

Biodesalination: from cell to tap

Dr. Anna Amtmann leads a multidisciplinary team of biologists and engineers from Glasgow, Sheffield, Newcastle, Robert Gordon (Aberdeen) and Imperial College London in an EPSRC-funded project with the title ‘Bio-desalination: from cell to tap’. The aim of the project is to develop innovative desalination technology based on synthetic biology.

To build the synthetic ion-exchanger unit the Amtmann group ‘mixes and matches’ membrane proteins evolved by different organisms to work as sunlight-driven pumps and ion channels. The synthetic salt accumulator is then expressed in the biological chassis (e.g. cyanobacteria) under the control of a biological switch that can be triggered at a given time point in the process. The engineers in the team manipulate the surface properties of the synthetic cells in such a way that the cells float, sink or coagulate, and based on these properties they construct a process that continuously removes salt-saturated cells from the water. The beauty of the system is that it directly uses solar energy via photosynthesis and light-sensitive retinal proteins, and that its waste product (biomass) can be used to produce biofuel, biopharmaceuticals or biocosmetics.

Funded by: EPSRC
Principal Investigator: Dr Anna Amtmann
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