Seeds from a tropical tree could provide a more efficient way to purify drinking water, say scientists.
Proteins extracted from Moringa oleifera seeds can be used to sift out impurities and bind them together in clusters called flocs, research has shown.
The flocs produced within the protein are far more tightly packed than those formed by conventional purification agents, making them easier to separate and remove.
Moringa oleifera is an evergreen deciduous tree cultivated in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Its leaves, fruits and seeds have a wide range of uses, including nutrition products, animal feed and alternative medicines.
Scientists believe the seed proteins could be used in large and small water treatment plants in both industrialised and developing countries.
"We can envisage that similar materials could be used in Europe both to produce drinking water and to treat wastewater," said Professor Adrian Rennie, a member of the team from the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
The scientists used advanced neutron scattering techniques to study the proteins and their properties.
"Neutrons are an ideal tool for understanding the internal structure of these complex organic aggregates thanks to a contrast matching technique that only highlights the protein components absorbed to the particles," said Dr Lionel Porcar, from the Institut Laue-Langevin in France.