Bacteria Modified to Mass-Produce Moringa Tree Proteins for Industrial Water Treatment

Bacteria Modified to Mass-Produce Moringa Tree Proteins for Industrial Water Treatment


A team of Army scientists, on the march for clean water, have decided the best factory for water filtering coagulant used in treatment facilities is a colony of bacteria taught to make a tree protein, and their effort may be leveraged into a commercial product.

The tropical Moringa Tree naturally produces proteins, in its seeds, that are great at making bad stuff floating in water clump together; it has to do with balancing out the electrical charges. But once that’s taken care of the clumps can be easily filtered out.

It’s called a coagulation and flocculation treatment for suspended solids, and at wastewater treatment plants it’s often done with chemicals, so the Moringa Tree’s organic solution is very attractive.

Seed pods hang from a Moringa Tree. (Bishnu Sarangi/Pixabay)

But there’s a technical problem, at least from the commercialization for global wastewater treatment perspective.

“Although these proteins possess great potential to augment or replace traditional coagulants in water treatment, harvesting active protein from seeds is laborious and not cost-effective,” according to the 2019 research paper authored by Clint Arnett, Ashley Boyd, Martin Page, and Donald Cropek from the Corps’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, along with Justin Lange from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Their alternative protein production process starts with a hard-working bacteria known as  Bacillus subtilis The research team used a plasmid library to clone the specific Moringa Tree genes into a few hundred of the bacteria and found 14 clones capable of mass-producing the coagulation protein–voila! Now the protein can be produced in fermentation vats already used by the chemical industry.

Scientific Progress Creates Business Opportunity

On March 25, 2021, the team’s methodology and results were re-published in the form of U.S. Patent Application 16/582,959 filed by the Army Corps of Engineers. And that paves the way for partnerships with companies in the industrial water treatment market, or entrepreneurs who want to clump it up with an innovative product or service.

Private companies can acquire the commercial rights to the Army’s IP by negotiating a patent license agreement. Such an agreement usually provides a number of benefits, including access to the inventors, test data, and other information from the lab so that a company can get to work on taking the technology to market.

Because licensing government inventions is novel to some companies, TechLink helps them navigate the process, and does so at no charge. Interested companies are guided by a senior technology manager, in this case, Christie Bell, through each step of the process, from the first contact with the laboratory to drying the ink on a patent license.

According to the researchers, citing a peer-reviewed study, “The cost to meet global clean water requirements on an annual basis could rise to several trillion dollars in the near future depending on scarcity and overall water quality…The ever-increasing global demand for clean water is the driving force to develop new technologies to treat both water supplies and wastewater more economically.”