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Bioremediation of oil spills

Oil spills happen frequently and cause environmental and ecological issues [1]. Whether by accident or deliberate, it’s estimated that thousands of tons of oil are lost in the water every year [1]. These massive spills of hydrocarbons (such as petroleum and its products) cause long-term damage to the surrounding and distant marine ecosystems and wildlife, as well as off-shore ecosystems [2]. While the significant economic and environmental impacts are difficult to quantify [3], it is crucial to push forward development of preventative measures, as well as more effective clean-up solutions, in order to deal with this ongoing destruction.


One way to deal with oil spills is through bioremediation, a process  in which microorganisms are used to degrade toxic chemicals and pollutants into components that can be safely returned to the environment [6]. The three main types of bioremediation used for petroleum spills include microbial remediation, phytoremediation (using living plants), and mycoremediation (fungi). These indigenous communities of microorganisms are able to break down 

Other cleanup methods, such as chemical and manual removal, are more labor-intensive, expensive, and can cause chemical or mechanical damage [5]. 


How can we help?

Bacterial consortia are often found in the community of microorganisms which can degrade crude oil. These bacteria use these aromatic hydrocarbons as their only source of carbon and energy [6]. We can genetically engineer and take advantage of these communities in order to improve their efficiency and ability to degrade oil.

There are many studies which have already identified consortia, specific species, and key metabolic genes which participate in the bioremediation process [7, 8, 9, 10,11]. Our system would both allow specific integration of new genes and pathways to a desired species, as well as increase the biosafety of modifying natural communities by preventing horizontal gene transfer.


[1]        Singh, H., Bhardwaj, N., Arya, S. K., & Khatri, M. (2020). Environmental impacts of oil spills and their remediation by magnetic nanomaterials. Environmental Nanotechnology, Monitoring & Management, 100305.


[2]        Barron, M. G., Vivian, D. N., Heintz, R. A., & Yim, U. H. (2020). Long-term ecological impacts from oil spills: comparison of exxon valdez, hebei spirit, and deepwater horizon. Environmental science & technology, 54(11), 6456-6467. 


[3]        Chang, S. E., Stone, J., Demes, K., & Piscitelli, M. (2014). Consequences of oil spills: a review and framework for informing planning. Ecology and Society, 19(2).


[4]        Chen, J., Zhang, W., Wan, Z., Li, S., Huang, T., & Fei, Y. (2019). Oil spills from global tankers: Status review and future governance. Journal of cleaner production, 227, 20-32.


[5]        Xenia, M. E., & Refugio, R. V. (2016). Microorganisms metabolism during bioremediation of oil contaminated soils. J. Bioremed. Biodeg, 7(2).


[6]        Banerjee, A., Roy, A., Dutta, S., & Mondal, S. (2016). Bioremediation of hydrocarbon- a review. International Journal of Advanced Research, 4(6), 1303-1313


[7]        Nitschke, M., & Pastore, G. M. (2006). Production and properties of a surfactant obtained from Bacillus subtilis grown on cassava wastewater. Bioresource technology, 97(2), 336-341.


[8]        Liu, H., Yao, J., Yuan, Z., Shang, Y., Chen, H., Wang, F., Masakorala, K., Yu, C., Cai, M., Blake, R.E. & Choi, M. M. (2014). Isolation and characterization of crude-oil-degrading bacteria from oil-water mixture in Dagang oilfield, China. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 87, 52-59.


[9]        Dvořák, P., Nikel, P. I., Damborský, J., & de Lorenzo, V. (2017). Bioremediation 3.0: engineering pollutant-removing bacteria in the times of systemic biology. Biotechnology advances, 35(7), 845-866.


[10]      Gilbert, E. S., Walker, A. W., & Keasling, J. D. (2003). A constructed microbial consortium for biodegradation of the organophosphorus insecticide parathion. Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 61(1), 77-81.


[11]      Wang, Q., Fang, X., Bai, B., Liang, X., Shuler, P. J., Goddard III, W. A., & Tang, Y. (2007). Engineering bacteria for production of rhamnolipid as an agent for enhanced oil recovery. Biotechnology and bioengineering, 98(4), 842-853.

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