Professor Moshe Herzberg and his team at BGU grafted a special hydrogel coating onto a commercial ultrafiltration membrane.
Professor Moshe Herzberg and his team at BGU grafted a special hydrogel coating onto a commercial ultrafiltration membrane.

Current membrane filtration methods require a lot of energy to adequately remove pathogenic viruses without using chemicals like chlorine, which can contaminate the water with disinfection byproducts.

The researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Israel, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), USA, collaborated on the new approach for virus pathogen removal which was found to result enhanced removal of waterborne viruses, including human norovirus and adenovirus.

“This is an urgent matter of public safety,” they say. “Insufficient removal of human Adenovirus in municipal wastewater, for example, has been detected as a contaminant in US drinking water sources, including the Great Lakes and worldwide.”

The norovirus, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans, and is estimated to be the second leading cause of gastroenteritis-associated mortality. Human adenoviruses can cause a wide range of illnesses including the common cold, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, fever, cystitis and neurological disease.

In this project, Professor Moshe Herzberg of the Department of Desalination and Water Treatment in the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at BGU and his group grafted a special hydrogel coating onto a commercial ultrafiltration membrane.

This 'zwitterionic polymer hydrogel' repels the viruses from approaching and passing through the membrane. It contains both positive and negative charges and improves efficiency by weakening virus accumulation on the modified filter surface. The result is a significantly higher rate of removal of waterborne viruses, including human norovirus and adenovirus.

The research findings have been published in the Elsevier journal Water Research.

The project was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the German-Israeli Water Technology Cooperation Program, which is funded by the Ministry of Science & Technology of Israel and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany.