Science Questions

What do we know about oil-degrading bacteria?

Sat, 15th May 2010

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Raghav Chandra asked:

What do we know about oil-degrading bacteria?


We put this question to Dr Jim Haseloff, from Cambridge University:

Chris -  A very pertinent question with what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico of course.

Jim -   Yes and one of the first patented organisms (and that’s another controversial issue, whether you can patent things) was a microbe that had improved oil degradation properties and so, clearly, the appeal of synthetic biology approaches is that you can take some of the diversity that you find in the natural world and transfer that into organisms for more specific purposes.

Chris -   In other words, to turn bacteria into things that can eat oil and therefore help with their clean up. 


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raghav chandra asked the Naked Scientists: Dear Naked Scientist Team: I was reading an article about bioremediation. I was wondering if you could tell me - Is Streptomyces griseus a degrader of oil? - What other known species of bioremediative bacteria are there? Thank you for your time. Raghav Chandra What do you think? raghav chandra , Mon, 3rd Nov 2008

Human Sewage, farm manure all contain the organisms that break down oil tar residues. This can be seen on tarmac roads where potholes form in the middle from horses, sheep and cattle droppings left to eat into the hard road surface. Droppings on either side of the narrow country lanes  are dispersed by traffic so do less damage than the undisturbed manure.

The sewage pollution in the sea on the coast of Kuwait must have played an important part in the dispersal of the oil contamination during the gulf war.

This has been an argument of mine for the Oasis Irrigation Project, which uses the return ballast capacity of super crude oil carriers to transport waste water back to irrigate deserts, while at the same time cleaning out the tankers of the tar residues that build up and occupy a large ever increasing area of the tankers capacity to carry crude oil.

Andrew K Fletcher
Andrew K Fletcher, Wed, 26th Nov 2008

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