Environment | Science

OSU Researchers Discover 'Oil-Eating' Strain Of Bacteria

OPB | June 14, 2010 10:49 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:07 a.m. | Bend, OR

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By David Nogueras

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered a new strain of bacteria they say has potential to one day help break down and detoxify oil spills like the one in the Gulf. David Nogueras has more.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is found almost everywhere. But this strain was found feeding on petroleum-contaminated soil in China.

Christine Kelly is an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at Oregon State University.  She didn't take part in the study, but she's familiar with the work.

She says this particular strain, known as NY3 has two qualities that make it special.

The first is its ability to produce what are known as surfactants.  They make it easier for NY3 and other microorganisms to break it down the oil.

Christine Kelly: "There's dozens of compounds in oil some of them are more easily eaten by bacteria and some of them are like there's not as many types of bacteria that can eat them."

As it turns out, NY3 is also very good at breaking down Polycyclic Aeromatic Hydrocarbons.  Those are found in oil and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

OSU is filing for a patent on the discovery.

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