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Synthetic “Coral” Could Suck Toxic Metals from Ocean Water

posted: 07/23/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Coral Reef Scene with Fish in Indonesia
Jodi Jacobson/iStock

Researchers have developed a synthetic coral-like material capable of sucking heavy metals from ocean water, according to a new study.

The synthetic coral takes cues from tradition coral, which -- much to its own detriment -- collects and ingests heavy metals floating in the ocean water. Constructed of aluminum oxide, the coral-esque nanoplates "curl themselves up into a coral-like structure, which behaves in a similar way to real coral," according to a news release. The heavy metal ions floating freely in the ocean then adhere to the nanoplates, a process known as adsorption.

"Adsorption is an easy way to remove pollutants from water, so developing new products that can do this is a big challenge in environmental remediation," explains Dr. Xianbiao Wang, of China's Anhui Jianzhu University. "We hope our work provides inspiration for more research into the development of materials that mimic biological organisms."

Heavy metal poisoning is a serious issue for both humans and marine wildlife: mercury, lead and arsenic exposure have been linked to impaired cognitive development in children living in subsistence fishing communities. Chemicals and heavy metals can also accumulate in frightening amounts in the bodies of wildlife.

Related: Toxic SoCal Shark Contains 100 Times the Legal Limit of Chemicals Banned Decades Ago

Wang's research is published in the latest edition of the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. Click here for more information about his research.

Learn more about coral:

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Four Kinds of Coral Reef
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