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Canadian Researchers Utilizing Oil-Eating Bacteria to Combat Spills

Canadian Researchers Utilizing Oil-Eating Bacteria to Combat Spills April 16, 2018 1:11 pm

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An enzyme-based bacterium being studied and modified by researchers from the University of Quebec’s National Institute of Scientific research looks to be the future of oil spill cleanup. The research team, headed by Professor Satinder Kaur Brar and Dr. Tarek Rouissi, has worked for the past several years to identify the ideal strain of oil-consuming bacteria, and the finalization of their search would mean oil spills being dissipated in a fraction of the time that it currently takes to rid water and soil of the hazardous energy source.

[This is the] first time that enzyme based-technology is proposed for decontaminated of petroleum sites [for large areas], Brar told Digital Trends. It can decontaminate sites in only a few days to weeks of application. We have seen that it can be applied to both contaminated soil and water. We are developing this technology of fast bioremediation using low cost enzymes with a safe bacteria.

While the iteration of bacteria that the University of Quebec researchers have pinpointed will be deployed, in perhaps a modified form, intentionally by humans in the event of oil spills, nature has shown us the value of bacteria in mitigating man-made oil hazards. The widely-publicized BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 resulted in the bloom of several species of bacteria that helped consume the oil which flooded the warm waters of the Gulf. Were it not for the emergence of such species, the already-catastrophic levels of environmental damage would have been even greater. Deployed in high concentrations, the bacteria allows oil spill sites to be rid of contaminants in as little as a few days, and in longer instances only a matter of weeks.

It is actually one of the species of bacteria that researchers discovered in the wake of the BP oil spill which is now the focus of genetic studies by the Canadian team. The genome of Alcanivorax borkumensis, or A. borkumensis, was charted by a German research team approximately ten years ago. The bacterium consumes oil for energy, and fortunately, the bacteria can be found throughout the waters of the world, including the major oceans. The genome has and continues to be studied in order to understand better the mechanisms that drive its ability to absorb oil, and that genome will serve as a guide for more easily-applicable mechanisms to reduce the damage inflicted by oil spills in the future. The paper detailing the University of Quebec’s study can be read here for more details on the effectiveness of Alcanivorax borkumensis as an environment-preserving resource.