Ariel Schwartz

Cactus Gum Can Purify Water Cheaply and Effectively

by , 04/27/10

sustainable design, humanitarian design, cactus, cacti, water, purification, water purification, green design

Counterintuitive as it may seem, cacti might be the key to cheap and easy water purification. Assistant Professor Norma Alcantar at the University of South Florida in Tampa has discovered that when mucilage (a type of gum used to store water) from the prickly pear cactus is mixed with water that contains high levels of sediment or the bacterium Bacillus cereus, both the bacteria and the sediment sink to the bottom. The mucilage, in other words, acts as a cheap and effective natural filter, which could be employed by millions of people in developing nations to produce clean water.

sustainable design, humanitarian design, cactus, cacti, water, purification, water purification, green designPhoto by Vince Alongi

The discovery means that residents of the developing world could potentially boil cactus and add it to water that needs to be purified. Of course, it will be difficult for cactus users to gauge how much bacteria and sediment has been filtered. And its hard to say how much water and land would be necessary to grow cacti for widespread water purification. But we love the idea of being able to swap out the Brita for a cactus.

+ University of South Florida

Via New Scientist

Lead photo by Flakeparadigm


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  1. Jagadeesh September 12, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Yes. Cactus ability to purify water was known since time immemorial but scientific studies are needed to synthesise the ingredient in the plant.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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    [...] if your city streets were left pristine, unstained by those unattractive black chewing gum splotches. Sound like a pipe dream? Well, it’s  not an impossibility–Revolymer, a [...]

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