Bioremediation of oil polluted marine environments

Bioremediation is the use of microorganisms to clean up pollution. These can range from explosives such as TNT to petroleum products and crude oil. A whole range of microorganisms can be used although the most used tend to be aerobic bacteria such as Alcanivorax borkumensis and Cycloclasticus pugetii. These bacteria use the carbon compounds in the oil as energy sources and thus are able to clean up such pollution. Oil enters the environment through many mechanisms from industrial seepage to full blown oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 and the BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico 2010.

These oil eating organisms are naturally present in the ocean having evolved to break down small amounts of naturally occurring hydrocarbons; for example when they bubble up from the sea floor or flow into the sea from the land. As a result when industrial accidents such as oil spills, the slick will eventually be dealt with naturally. However to help the microorganisms break down the hydrocarbons, chemical dispersants can be applied to the affected area. These break the slicks into smaller patches and even smaller molecules giving the microorganisms easier access. Furthermore the smaller the molecule the easier it is for uptake into the microorganism’s cell bodies.

Once inside the microorganism the hydrocarbon is broken down further. In bacteria this involves the use of oxygen radicals to react and break up the hydrocarbons. This degraded hydrocarbon then enters the TCA, releasing energy in the form of ATP for use by the microorganism.

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