Postgraduate Research &
Innovation Symposium (PRIS)

Advancing Sustainable Water Solutions through Biotechnology

In the search for sustainable water solutions in the 21st century, individuals like Ms Ntombiphumile Tenza emerge as pioneering researchers, dedicating their academic objectives to addressing critical global challenges.

Tenza, a PhD student in the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) is among the 45 scholars representing SCP at the 2023 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering, and Science at Coastlands Hotel in Durban on 2 and 3 November with the central theme of Water For Sustainability into the 21st Century.

The research tackles a growing environmental and health concern – the escalating presence of pharmaceuticals in wastewater effluents. Her study comprises a range of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antiretrovirals (ARVs), all of which have the potential to impact aquatic ecosystems and human well-being.

Tenza’s innovative approach involves utilising the power of biological microorganisms, specifically microalgae of the Chlorella species and Daphnia magna, to combat pharmaceutical contamination and nutrient overload in water systems. Microalgae have a natural ability to absorb and retain pharmaceutical compounds within their cells, aiding in their removal from water.

Her research motivation stems from recent South African studies highlighting the significant presence of pharmaceuticals in wastewater effluents and nearby rivers where they are discharged. These findings emphasise the potential environmental and health consequences of pharmaceutical contamination.

Tenza’s research holds the potential to significantly enhance water quality, safeguarding the well-being of aquatic life and communities reliant on these water sources. Moreover, the economic potential of microalgae and Daphnia magna, which can be extracted at the end of the treatment process and repurposed for valuable products such as biofuels, adds another layer of significance to this research, highlighting its multifaceted benefits for society and the environment.

Aligning her research with the overarching theme of Water for Sustainability into the 21st Century for PRIS 2023, her work addresses the need for sustainable water resource management and conservation by offering innovative solutions for wastewater treatment. By utilising biological microorganisms to remove pharmaceuticals and excess nutrients from water, her research contributes to the restoration and conservation of aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, the potential for economic benefits through the extraction of valuable products from these organisms underscores the sustainability and economic viability of this approach to water resource management.

Words: Siphesihle Owen Shezi

Photograph and image: Supplied