Going to extremes to tackle oil contamination – Saudi Gazette

Going to extremes to tackle oil contamination – Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — A comprehensive analysis of bacterial communities from Deception Island, an active volcano in Antarctica, highlights the potential for using heat-loving bacteria to clean up oil contamination, new research led by KAUST researchers shows.

Júnia Schultz recently joined KAUST as a postdoctoral student working with Dr. Alexandre Rosado, professor of bioscience. She has set her sights on characterizing the microbiome of extreme terrestrial environments in Saudi Arabia, including volcanoes, deserts and geothermal sites.

These extremophiles, bacteria that grow in the world’s most extreme environments, including those that love heat (thermophiles), hold immense potential for a myriad of biotechnology applications.

“Extremophiles thrive under a multitude of hostile conditions and have adapted to remain metabolically active in challenging circumstances,” Schultz said. “They exhibit versatile, diverse metabolic and physiological capabilities and often synthesize valuable bioproducts.”

Such bioproducts include enzymes and bioactive compounds that can be used in industries such as agriculture, pharmacology and even space exploration. Extremophiles could also provide a safe and efficient method of cleaning up oil contamination.

“Certain bacteria eat petroleum as a source of carbon, nutrients and energy,” she said. “To do this, they first secrete surfactants — substances that break the oil’s surface tension — before absorbing the emulsified petroleum into their