Texas-Based Biotechnology Company Develops Oil-Degrading Bacteria

Altogen Labs announced that it has successfully isolated natural oil-eating bacteria from polluted soil near Galveston Bay, Texas that has been shown in laboratory tests to be effective for the bioremediation of crude oil and petroleum saturated earth.

Bioremediation is a process involving microorganisms, fungi, green plants, or their enzymes to restore the natural environment to its original state after contamination. Bioremediation of the environment, be it soil or water, following contamination by crude oil, is performed by a variety of bacteria that feed on hydrocarbons, breaking down the petroleum molecules into less harmful substances. These bacteria, which occur naturally in the environment, can be isolated and expanded to help remediate oil spills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, applied remediation of oil contaminated soil and water is a high priority of government and industry as this method can be quicker and cheaper – today’s technology for cleaning up oil spills relies on physical cleaning methods, including skimmers, vacuums, and in situ burning, with chemical cleaning methods often toxic and poisonous to marine life. The recent spill of millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated a lack of effective technologies to clean up oil from the ocean as well as from large areas of contaminated soil.

Altogen Labs scientists have found these oil-degrading bacterial strains to be naturally present in various types of soil and water; however, upon contamination with crude oil, the concentration of bacteria increases dramatically because these bacteria feed on oil. Unfortunately, this process only occurs on the edge of the oil spill, as most microorganisms need other nutrients and oxygen to survive, making the ecosystem relatively inefficient for bioremediation. Altogen Labs (www.AltogenLabs.com) developed a technology that allows the acceleration of this natural process. Scientists were able to identify a hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial population, including saturate degraders and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degraders, and optimize the growing process in the laboratory. They developed a method of cultivation of oil-degrading bacteria that are specific to the site of a particular spill – microbes that act on the hydrocarbon molecules that are present at the site of the pollution.

The remarkable feature of this development is that bacteria can be expanded in large aqueous volumes and then the water can be evaporated to store high concentrations of bacteria in dry form and low volume. The product is very stable, and dry, natural bacteria can be activated by the addition of water. The growth conditions of these natural bacteria were optimized for effective oil degradation in Texas soil (including variations in temperature and soil conditions, as well as a number of oil compositions).

“We started this project 6 months ago by taking soil in a heavily oil-contaminated area (near Galveston Bay, TX) and have isolated strains of naturally present bacteria. We are currently finishing the proof-of-concept experiments demonstrating that these strains are effectively degrading Texas oil. Methods based on bioremediation approach are actively used in several countries now and well accepted by nature while posing minimal threat to marine ecosystems,” said Dr.Dmitriy Ovcharenko, Altogen Labs founder and CEO.

Altogen Labs is actively working on further development of this technology for both soil and water applications. However, the current product development process is limited to laboratory scale, and industrial-grade production and commercial product launch will require additional scale-up work. The company is now looking for collaborative opportunities to enable this large-scale development project.