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Oil-Eating Bacteria to Clean up Oil Spills
One of the biggest issue affecting health, agriculture, environment, financial sectors is recent times is the “oil-spill”. Scientists from various parts of the world are engaged in research towards oil spill clean ups. Europe has reported the sequenced genome of an oil-eating bacterium that has the ability to quickly and efficiently metabolized oil and cleans up oil spills.

In the past, bacteria were experimentally applied to clean up the 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez ashore off the coast of Alaska. While it did not make much variation back then, it is now that scientists presented the entire blueprint of the oil-starving bacteria: Alcanivorax borkumensis, with the facility to optimize the conditions for these organisms making them capable of soaking up the hundreds of millions of liters of oil that penetrate the water bodies each year.

According to Vitor Martins dos Santos of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (formerly the German Research Center for Biotechnology) in Braunschweig, Germany one of the co-leaders of the international project, with the entire blueprint for Alcanivorax borkumensis, scientists expects a better understanding of the specific physiological mechanism that facilitate the organism to survive entirely on hydrocarbons. The 2,755 sequenced gene of the organism has been illustrated in the journal ‘Nature Biotechnology’.

While, some bacteria have the ability to metabolize oil, but until now exploiting these potential for remediation has been hesitated. Although the oil-consuming bacteria quite uncommon in uncontaminated surroundings, they are abundant in presence of oil; in oil spills A. borkumensis makes up  to 90 % of the microbial populations. It is important to create the optimized conditions for these bacteria to grow faster in oil contaminated areas and metabolize them efficiently.  According to de Lorenzo, it has now become a standard practice to include oil-soluble forms of phosphorous and nitrogen to oil spills. However, actual understanding of the specific nutrients required by the bacteria is still awaited.

Since bacterial method of remediation was not quite successful, oil spill cleanup rely much on the use of physical removal of oil with boom and application of chemical dispersants to split the remains. This method is not much acceptable since physically recovery of oil is quite expensive, and chemicals used along with the remaining oil that might not be quite visible are harmful to the environment .

The genomic information obtained from decoding the genome of the organism A. borkumensis  has disclosed the mechanism of molecular transport that facilitated the bacteria to procure nutrient from its environment. The research also help recognize the plethora of genes responsible for the production of the bacterial oxidative enzymes required for oil degradation, that should enable the researchers easier to find other organisms with capabilities alike.

Such organisms will be essential since A. borkumensis has the ability to metabolize compounds of low molecular weight only, that add up to only 70 % of crude oil. Therefore, finding out organisms that could consume the remaining high-molecular-weight compounds, is quite essential. Research towards sequencing of other oil-eating bacteria is in progress in the United States, Japan, Australia.
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