Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo Tech, have developed a peptide sensor that recognizes polymers in water as one of its contaminants.

Scientists have found that peptides react with synthetic polymers in mixed solutions. Researchers tested the new sensor in wastewater and confirmed its ability to detect a variety of water-soluble polymers.

Polymers are complex chemicals formed by the fusion of two to several thousand simple molecules (monomers), resulting in a large molecular structure. Proteins can also be thought of as polymers because they are made up of thousands of subunits called “amino acids.” The short chains of amino acids are called peptides. Peptides can interact with molecules such as polymers in a variety of ways and give signals when detected in water.

“Just as our noses and tongues can distinguish many smells and tastes using a limited number of receptor proteins, so our peptide sensor recognizes many polymers and other molecules in water,” says Professor Takeshi Serizawa, research leader.

Marine pollution is one of the global problems of humanity. The world community is concerned about microplastics. Water-soluble synthetic polymers in water are hazardous to the aquatic environment and its inhabitants. Because they cannot be recovered using conventional filtration methods, because they dissolve in water.