New bacteria strain may help clean Gulf oil spill

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Washington, June 12 (ANI): Researchers have discovered a new strain of bacteria that could help clean up the mess created by the Gulf oil spill.

The strain can produce non-toxic, comparatively inexpensive "rhamnolipids," and effectively help degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs - environmental pollutants that are one of the most harmful aspects of oil spills.

These rhamnolipids are a group of a group of "biosurfactants" - a type of wetting agent that lowers surface tension between liquids, similar to that in detergents and shampoos. Biosurfactants are generally non-toxic, environmentally benign and biodegradable.

However, before commercial use, scientists want to attempt at further reducing costs and scaling up production.

"PAHs are a widespread group of toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds, but also one of the biggest concerns about oil spills," said Xihou Yin, a research assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy.

"Some of the most toxic aspects of oil to fish, wildlife and humans are from PAHs," Yin said.

"They can cause cancer, suppress immune system function, cause reproductive problems, nervous system effects and other health issues. This particular strain of bacteria appears to break up and degrade PAHs better than other approaches we have available."

The newly discovered strain, NY3, has an "extraordinary capacity" to produce rhamnolipids that could help break down oil, and then degrade some of its most serious toxic compounds, the PAHs. Rhamnolipids are not toxic to microbial flora, human beings and animals, and they are completely biodegradable.

The only reason they can't replace synthetic chemicals is the cost. By using low-cost sources of carbon or genetic engineering techniques, it may be possible to reduce costs even further and scale up production at very cost-effective levels, researchers said.

"Compared to their chemically synthesized counterparts, microbial surfactants show great potential for useful activity with less environmental risk," the researchers say.

"The search for safe and efficient methods to remove environmental pollutants is a major impetus in the search for novel biosurfactant-producing and PAH-degrading microorganisms."

The findings were published in Biotechnology Advances. (ANI)

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