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What is cactus used for: Mexican chemical engineer patented 12 uses in the US thanks to her grandmother’s knowledge


Nopales have a large number of benefits, from nutritional to scientific.

Photo: DAVID MCNEW / Getty Images

Norma Alcantar is the name of a successful Mexican woman who has registered in the United States 12 of the 22 patents registered in the country on nopal, a plant that is very common in Mexico and that are based on the advice that one day her grandmother gave her to clean the water with a home remedy.

The protagonist of this story released by the Efe agency, is a chemical engineer graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has developed 12 inventions from the gummy substance that nopal contains.

Their contributions with the use of this unique plant range from cleaning the water to stop the formation of brain plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease. For her career and contributions, Norma Alcantar will be inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame this year on November 5.

The Mexican engineer also has a doctorate from the University of California Santa Bárbara and is a researcher at the University of South Florida (USF). But Alcantar shares the credit of his success with his grandmother Balbina, who passed away in 2008.

Alcantar says that in his search for investigations at the USF they proposed one about oils from vipers, a reptile that he dislikes, so He remembered something his grandmother told him when he was a high school student in Mexico City.

When talking to her grandmother about a chemistry class about sulfatants and their cleaning power in detergents, the lady told her that she knew how to clean water with cactus.

He explained that when he lived in the countryside, in Michoacán, They used to cook the nopal and add it to the water with sediment and debris that they took from a pond to purify it.

At that time Alcantar doubted the remedy because it did not make sense to him that water with the green gelatinous substance of the cactus purified another that was dirty with sediment.

However, years later he tried it in his laboratory at USF, with such success that it has become a pioneer in chemical advances of molecules of plant origin for the decontamination of water.

Alcantar’s research has since been based on the opuntia ficus (popularly known as nopal), a plant that reproduces very quickly, at low cost, is quite sustainable, does not need much water for its development and adapts easily. to different types of climates.

With his research he has found that the mucilage of the cactus (the viscous part of its interior) It can remove sediment, oil, radioactive isotopes, heavy metals, and even bacteria from water.

Mucilage works in the same way as Corexit, a chemical compound used in the Gulf of Mexico for oil spills, but with the advantage that it is not toxic to marine flora and fauna.

Among his work with mucilage, he has discovered that it can be used to prevent the spread of amyloid plaques that cause Alzheimer’s.

It has also developed mucilage pellets that eliminate the smell of fish and thus speeds up the marketing process without the need for prolonged washing with water.

Another of the inventions that he has in development with successful results, is about the nopal to kill cancer cells in the ovaries.

For the contributions of the Mexican researcher, this year she will receive the distinction of joining the select group of 58 inventors from Florida, who together hold more than 3,675 patents.

With information from Efe

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