Many types of heavy metals are poisonous to living creatures and detrimental to the ecosystem due to their toxicity. A research project led by Professor Dr. Wong Ling Shing from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at INTI International University, in collaboration with Associate Professor Dr. Chai Mee Kin from Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), revealed that the process of photosynthesis can be used to detect heavy metals found in natural water bodies.
“Increased population leads to an increase in the demand for water. Human activities from industrial, domestic, and agricultural frequently releases tonnes of waste metals into the water,” Prof. Wong explained.
The study titled “Photosynthetic Microorganism Consortium as Bioindicators for Heavy Metals” indicated that waste metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc are the metals frequently found and are one of the biggest threats to human life.
A research titled “Photosynthetic Microorganism Consortium as Bioindicators for Heavy Metals” led by Prof. Dr. Wong Ling Shing from INTI International University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences revealed that the process of photosynthesis can be used to detect heavy metals found in natural water bodies.
“Metal poisoning may cause cognitive impairment in children, dementia in adults, problems involving the central nervous system, depression, kidney, and liver diseases, as well as vision changes. Exposure to heavy metals in high doses among humans can cause severe complications in the future if overlooked or managed improperly,” he said.
Published in the Nature Environment and Pollutant Technology journal, his study has shown that a collection of photosynthetic microorganisms are present in the Malaysia’s bodies of water. These microorganisms are sensitive to changes in the surrounding environment and when heavy metals are introduced into bodies of water, the microorganisms will respond to the changes in the environment by changing their photosynthesis behavior.
In conducting the study, the team collected a consortium of photosynthetic microorganisms from two different locations in Malaysia, namely Taman Tasik Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur and Taman Metropolitan in Selangor as both were surrounded by large water bodies containing a good population of algae and cyanobacteria.
“It was discovered that tiny organisms can perform photosynthesis, turning sunlight into energy found in natural bodies of water and can be used to detect the presence of heavy metals in water. These collections of microorganisms called ‘consortiums’ can also be used as ‘bioindicators’ to help signal the presence of heavy metals in the water,” said Prof. Wong who is also a senior lecturer at INTI International University.
He added that photosynthetic microorganism consortiums which are sensitive to environmental changes and are abundantly present may be good natural indicators.
“They are good enough to detect, screen, and test for heavy metal pollutants in the water,” he said.
Concluding his research, Prof. Wong called on the government to safeguard the public’s health and environment through public awareness.
“Much attention is often directed to microbial technology as it is more cost-effective, but now there is a more sustainable approach using bioindicators to detect contaminated water. It is also hoped that government regulations continue to ban certain pollutants and regulate pollution permits that reduce or recover heavy metal pollutants in Malaysia,” he said.