JERUSALEM, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Israeli and U.S. researchers discovered that a natural mechanism in cells may help developing selective water filtration technologies, the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) reported on Tuesday.
Such technologies can speed up and improve desalination (separation of salts from water) and other water treatment processes, while cutting costs, and may promote developments in medicine, energy production and other fields, it said.
The findings, which are included in a study conducted by Technion researchers and their counterparts from the Yale University in the United States, were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
For dozens of years, reverse osmosis technology has been used for water desalination, using polymeric membranes that allow only water to pass and prevent the passage of salts.
However, these membranes can't perform effective selective filtering for keeping important nutritional minerals in the water, extracting valuable substances such as lithium, and filtering polluting substances.
The team used a natural selective filtration process, carried out by the potassium channel located in the cell membrane.
This canal allows entry to potassium ions only, as the potassium molecules, in their normal state, are wrapped with water and therefore are too thick to enter the canal.
Therefore, they must get rid of the water molecules around them to enter the canal, and they do so by dehydration.
This makes it easier for the channel to detect the potassium ions and allow them to pass.
Thus, the researchers are examining the production of artificial selective membranes based on the natural process, by improving standard polymeric membranes, as well as creating new membranes from other materials. Enditem