DURHAM, N.C. A genetic tool used by medical researchers may also be used in a novel approach to remove harmful microbes and viruses from drinking water.
In a series of proof-of-concept experiments, Duke University engineers demonstrated that short strands of genetic material could successfully target a matching portion of a gene in a common fungus found in water and make it stop working. If this new approach can be perfected, the researchers believe that it could serve as the basis for a device to help solve the problem of safe drinking water in Third World countries without water treatment facilities.
The relatively new technology, known as RNA interference (RNAi), makes use of short snippets of genetic material that match -- like a lock and key -- a corresponding segment of a gene in the target. When these snippets enter a cell and attach to the corresponding segment, they can inhibit or block the action of the target gene. This approach is increasingly being used as a tool in biomedical research, but has not previously been applied to environmental issues.
Pathogens, whether bacterial or viral, represent one of the major threats to drinking water in developed and undeveloped countries, said Sara Morey, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Claudia Gunsch, assistant professor of civil engineering at Dukes Pratt School of Engineering. Our data showed that we could silence the action of a specific gene in a fungus in water, leading us to believe that RNAi shows promise as a gene-silencing tool for controlling the proliferation of waterborne bacteria and viruses.
Morey presented the results of her experiments June 3, 2008, during the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in Boston.
In addition to helping solve drinking water issues in underdeveloped countries, this new approach could also address some of the drawbacks associated with treated drinking water in more developed nations, Morey said. Methods
|Contact: Richard Merritt|