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Water Today Title May 30, 2024

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Updated 2021/1/12
Water Filtration


WT staff

Interview with Peter Holme Jensen, CEO & Co-Founder of Aquaporin. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

WT - Good morning, I'm on the phone with Peter Holme Jensen from Aquaporin Corporation in Copenhagen. Thanks for doing this, Peter.

Holme Jensen - Thank you.

WT Your firm has a new water filtration system. Can you tell our viewers a little bit about it and what the big breakthrough is?

Holme Jensen - What we do is we take the cue from nature in water treatment and try to reuse nature's way of filtering water. So, the technology that nature has invented for us is actually the technology that filtrates most water on earth today and has done so for several thousand years.

We are just the first company in the world to take that brilliant invention that nature has developed for billions of years of evolution and applied it to a more industrial context. That has been done in a lot of different industries before, where companies like Dupont Industrial Bioscience and OvaScience in Denmark or Royal DSM in the Netherlands, they work to produce enzymes or proteins to catalyze different processes industrially. And essentially, it's the same as what we do. We just do it in the water treatment context.

WT Can you explain then a little bit about how water channels through protein, what does that mean? You're talking about a natural process of filtration? Just about everybody that goes to WaterToday is aware that nano filtration systems are out there and available. Is this similar or is this nano filtration using nature? I'm trying to understand this protein, this water channel through protein. I find that just fascinating.

Holme Jensen - Yeah, it's well, you know, everything is chemistry and nature is also chemistry. Normally, when you look into water treatment technologies and water, reverse osmosis membranes and all the types of water treatment membranes, normally you talk about inorganic chemistry where you use polymers or you use carbon nanotubes and all the inorganic chemistry compounds to make a membrane.

What we do is - and we are the first ones in the world to do that - we take an organic compound from nature and we combine it with all the components that are already applied in the water industry today, and we make them work together. So it is actually a combination of taking the chemical engineering that has been going on for decades in the water industry and a lot of other industries, and then combining that with an organic component, thereby taking it the first step towards nature and a more sustainable solution. And what we have today, because you can say the mindset behind Aquaporin really is that we have a firm belief that if we are looking for sustainability in water treatment, nature is a good place to start because inherently sustainability is built into nature. And that is why, taking a cue from nature is, in our context, a very good idea if we are looking for sustainability in water treatment for the future. You know, you and I, we can still open our water and we can get clean, fresh water out every day. But still, more than one billion people on Earth do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.

That is because the technologies applied today are, in many ways, old fashion and have been developed 30, 40 years ago, three, four decades ago, and they're still being applied and they are quite energy inefficient. So, the people who do not have access to clean drinking water today, it's not because they don't have the technologies, because we do, but the technologies we have today are so energy inefficient that a lot of people on planet Earth, do not have access to the energy resources needed in order to use these technologies. So what we need is more energy efficient water treatment technologies. And this is where nature can give us a helping hand.

WT - When you talk about a helping hand, what I'm trying to get to people specifically in this interview, is that when you talk about Aquaporin, it's a thing in itself, not just your company name, and, if I understand this correctly, it opens a water channel somehow. And I'm trying to connect how opening a water channel through protein ends up being used in a water filtration system. That's the part I just can't get my head around.

Holme Jensen -Ok, let me try to give you sort of the background, because you are totally right that the name Aquaporin is the name of our company, but it is also the name of a protein that you find in nature and you find this protein in all living cells. Without that protein, there wouldn't be life on Earth. And we felt that we like this molecule so much that we just named our company after it, you could say. And other companies have actually also done that. You could say, for instance, a company like Siemens - which everybody knows - Siemens is also an SI unit. So, it's not the first time in world history where people are inspired by science in naming companies.

WT If you could just build on the idea of what opening a channel through a protein means. Why is that important here?

Holme Jensen - Well, what the aquaporin protein does in a living cell is that it creates a pore, actually a nano pore you could say. But instead of using a carbon nanotubes, it uses organic nano pores.

And this is what the aquaporin protein actually is. So it actually constitutes a pore across the cell membrane where water and only water, nothing else but H2O can pass and one billion water molecules each second can pass one more channel. This is the way that water is filtered from the inside to the outside of the cell and the other way back in nature. It does so in the roots of trees. It does so in in your kidneys as we speak, even when you cry in your eyes, this is where the water comes out. So, you can see it's extremely efficient; one gram of aquaporin protein can filter up to 700 liters of water per second. And again, this is not something we have developed, it is something that nature has developed through billions of years of evolution. So, we just stand on the shoulders of that evolution. The aquaporin protein was discovered by an American, Professor Peter Agre, in 1992, and he got the Nobel Prize for that in 2003. Agre showed in his study how efficient and how selective the aquaporin water channel is in filtrating water in living cells. Essentially, you can just think of it as a, you know, a swing door for water molecules. It's a passport control where it allows water to come in and out, but nothing else but water goes across or through the aquaporin water channel.

WT - That's incredible.

Holme Jensen -It is quite incredible, actually. It is really one of the amazing things when you look into nature, nature has so many inspiring inventions. It has been working for 3.8 Billion years through evolution. And you could say it's classical Darwinism. So the best one survives and one of the best ones was the aquaporin protein in filtering water.

And it is the way that water is filtered in all living cells. Without aquaporin proteins, there wouldn't be life on Earth, I can assure you.

WT Some of the background I was doing on this Peter, was this process is very involved in the human kidney as well, if I read my chemistry correctly.

Holme Jensen - Yes, that is correct in the human body, you have 13 different isoforms, You could say these are 13 different variants of the aquaporin protein in nature. In total, we know more than 500 different variants of the isoforms of the aquaporin protein. They all do the same. The variance is just a matter of how the amino acid sequence of the aquaporin protein is made. But they all do the same: they constitute a water pore across the cell membrane that very efficiently and very selectively transports water in and out of the living cell. And that's what they all do in the human body. For instance, the aquaporin protein is also what moisturizes your skin from the inner skin layer to the outer skin layer. It is what makes you cry. You have a specific variant in the in the eye. And then you also have some variation in, for instance, in the kidneys and also in the red blood cells.

There are huge amounts of the aquaporin protein in the kidney. And what the aquaporin protein specifically does in the kidney is that at the end of the kidney, you have this, - and I'm not a medical doctor - but I think it's called the Loop Of Henle where the urine is actually concentrated by re-absorbing the water from the urine through the aquaporin, because in the loop, there are a lot of other components that can extract water out of the urine, thereby concentrating your urine. And if you did not have that Loop of Henle to concentrate the urine, you would actually pee around 200 liters of urine per day. Then, yeah, you couldn't do much else. So, it's really important to have the aquaporin proteins in the kidneys.

And this is also onee of the things that we're looking into today. Whether we could actually take biomimetic, aquaporin-based membranes and reuse them in, for instance, in hemodialysis, where water is reused in a closed loop for hemodialysis patients. And potentially in the long run, you could make the hemodialysis portable and even create an artificial kidney where aquaporin technology becomes the enabler. And the reason why, for instance, the hemodialysis industry understands this immediately is because they know in the hemodialysis industry how important the aquaporins are in the human kidney.


Aquaporin Inside® Technology Filtration Membranes-Part 2


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