Grass Shows Promise for Removing Antibiotics from Water

Apr 14, 2010 By Marcia Goodrich
Senior Stephanie Smith has discovered that a common grass can remove two antibiotics from water.

(PhysOrg.com) -- What goes in must come out, and when animals are given antibiotics, they can find their way into the water supply. Now, a Michigan Tech senior has identified one way to sop them up.

Antibiotics, like many pharmaceuticals, pass through the largely unchanged. The resulting drug-laden waste from farms and feedlots (or for that matter, apartments and subdivisions) may be treated, but conventional methods don’t break down excreted antibiotics.

The concentrations are small, probably not enough to have an immediate effect on anyone drinking a cup of water. But by releasing antibiotics indiscriminately into the environment, scientists fear we are encouraging antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and making it harder to treat deadly , such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“There are also problems with using this contaminated waste to fertilize crops, or the water to irrigate,” says Stephanie Smith, who is graduating in May with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Working with Rupali Datta, an associate professor of biological sciences, Smith designed an experiment using sterile vetiver grass to address the issue. Vetiver is a native of India often grown in artificial wetlands to cleanse wastewater. It is both vigorous and noninvasive, posing little risk to indigenous plants. It’s also been used to clean up some tough customers, including TNT.

Smith grew vetiver hydroponically in a greenhouse, exposing the plants to various concentrations of tetracycline and monensin, two antibiotics commonly used to treat . “We wanted to see if the vetiver would uptake them, because if you give these antibiotics to cows, 70 percent is excreted in active form,” Smith says. “We worry about them leaching into the groundwater, getting into drinking water and compounding the problem of .”

At the end of the 12-week study, all of the tetracycline and 95.5 percent of the monensin had disappeared from the hydroponic solution. Tests showed that the vetiver had taken and metabolized both drugs up into the plant tissue. The results are preliminary, says Smith, but they show that vetiver holds promise for remediating antibiotics in wastewater.

Smith also recorded a peculiar side effect. “The plants in the tetracycline solution grew faster, much faster than the controls,” she says. “The plants in monensin grew somewhat faster, but not as much.”

“When I came to Tech, I honestly didn’t think I would be able to work on a project like this,” Smith adds. “We all get this kind of experience if we want to, and it’s been very cool to be involved.”

Next, the plants will be analyzed to determine what ultimately happens to the within the plant tissue.

Explore further: Structure of sodium channels different than previously believed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Drug metabolites found in wastewater

Mar 16, 2006

University of Buffalo chemists say they've identified metabolites of two antibiotics and a medial imaging agent at wastewater treatment plants.

Scientists strike blow in superbugs struggle

Dec 05, 2007

Scientists from The University of Manchester have pioneered new ways of tweaking the molecular structure of antibiotics – an innovation that could be crucial in the fight against powerful super bugs.

Bacteria manage perfume oil production from grass

Oct 31, 2008

Scientists in Italy have found bacteria in the root of a tropical grass whose oils have been used in the cosmetic and perfumery industries. These bacteria seem to promote the production of essential oils, but also they change ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...