Bioremediation: Dispersants Set the Stage for Oil-degrading Bacteria
For several years scientists have pursued genetic modifications to enhance the ability of various types of engineered bacteria to degrade oil spills, whether on land or in sea. However, nothing inside or outside of laboratories to date has been as effective in the bioremediation of oil as the naturally occurring microorganisms. In the aftermath of the 2010 blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, millions of gallons of oil-dispersing chemicals were used to accelerate evaporation of the oil into the atmosphere. At that time scientists didn’t know that reducing the oil to tiny droplets would result in the growth of billions of natural oil-degrading bacteria. In fact, there is nothing that is as effective as the tiny hydrocarbon-degrading bacterium. According to marine microbiologist Jay Grimes of the University of Southern Mississippi, there are no current man-made microbes that are more effective than naturally occurring bacteria at utilizing hydrocarbons.
Altogen Labs has developed “active bioremediation” technology based on natural oil-degrading bacteria for large-scale remediation of hydrocarbon-contaminated water and soil. Crude oil (and petroleum) is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, which cause widespread environmental contaminants following a spill. Currently, bioremediation techniques for hydrocarbon-contaminated sites are not well developed and often rely on nutrient-based products to improve growth of natural oil-degrading microorganisms. Unfortunately, this process is inefficient as it occurs on limited area of oil spill (where natural oil-degrading bacteria exist), and starts with a very small number of existing bioremediation-capable bacteria.
Most microorganisms need other nutrients as well as oxygen to survive, making the ecosystem relatively inefficient for bioremediation. However, we have developed a novel microorganism isolation and selection methods (patent pending) that allowes successful isolation and culturing of two site-specific, oil-degrading bacterial strains (Altogen Labs strains #322075 and #635822) from polluted soils in Texas, USA. These two bacterial products have been shown to effectively degrade Texas oil with high efficiency when used together. The microbes isolated by our technology, have displayed the ability to break down the ring structures of the highly toxic hydrocarbons associated with oil spills. In essence the microbes use the oil as a food source and remove the toxins, such as PAHs, that cause so much damage to the environment during oil contamination. We used functional genomics tools (whole-genome sequencing) and bioinformatics tools to characterize the genomes of these novel microorganisms.
Two bacterial strains (Altogen Labs strains #322075 and strain #635822) have a specialized metabolism that enables them to degrade a wide range of petroleum oil hydrocarbons. Using bioinformatics analysis tools we identified molecular mechanisms of these strains unusual metabolic features (quorum sensing systems and biosurfactant production) that allow a combination of these two bacterial strains to provide superior long-term bioremediation efficiency, making them potent natural agents for use in bioremediation of oil-contaminated environments. We are working on further development, characterization (genomic and functional), and large scale manufacturing of multiple commercial-grade bioremediation products.
Our current laboratory-based manufacturing process can produce large amounts of bacteria as a dry and stable product. Water evaporation of these cultures yields highly concentrated dry bacteria that can be restored to an active state by adding water.
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