Aquaporin on using nature's genius to solve the water crisis
Nature has been innovating for 3.8 billion years. Companies like Aquaporin are taking inspiration from biomimicry to solve some of our biggest challenges like access to clean water.
Water covers 70% of the Earth's surface yet more than 1 billion people lack access to clean water today. At the same time, drought and climate change are threatening water access for millions more around the globe.
Water is key because we cannot live without it. It’s also fundamental to agriculture and most industrial processes. So, today we’re going to take a look at the future of water to better understand why it’s such a big deal and how we can address the looming crisis.
My guest is Peter Holme Jensen, the Chief Innovation Officer of Aquaporin. They have developed an innovative technology to treat and filter water on an industrial scale based on nature’s genius. The design of their solution uses biomimicry taking inspiration from how nature naturally filters water through our cells. Join us as we dive into Aquaporin's approach to open innovation, the science behind the aquaporin protein, and the company’s startup story, which goes back to 2005.
Analisa Winther, Nordic FoodTech Podcast Host 0:31
Hello Peter. Welcome to the Nordic FoodTech Podcast. I'm excited to start today's show with a little bit of a science mystery because you work with aquaporins, which are nature's own water purifiers. But for a long time, there was a big mystery around aquaporins and how water moves in and out of cells. So, can you talk a little bit about how the aquaporin was discovered and what this mystery was in the science world?
Peter Holme Jensen, Aquaporin 2:33
Thank you, Analisa. For a couple of decades, it was sort of a mystery how water could actually go so fast in and out of living cells as it actually does. So, there was a hypothesis that we had this water channel that could very efficiently and selectively transport water in and out of living cells. A in the late 80s, there was an American professor, Peter Agre, who a little bit by accident actually discovered the aquaporin protein. He was looking for another protein and then he had this protein that kept on showing in his chemical analysis. And he said, “Well, maybe that actually might be the long sought after water channel.” And he used the next three years to examine that. He figured it out and also got proof that it actually was the water channel in living cells. Then I think in 1992 or 1993, he named this water channel the aquaporin protein. So, not only did he discover it, but he also named it. Prior to that, the aquaporin protein was called the major intrinsic protein because nobody knew what it was doing. So, if you look into the literature, there were a lot of things published about the major intrinsic protein, which is actually the aquaporin protein, but nobody knew what it was.
Analisa Winther, Nordic FoodTech Podcast Host 4:02
Yeah. But what is an aquaporin protein in terms of what proteins actually do for us?