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Scientists advance cleaning up crude oil of spills with bacteria, mushrooms

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Petrochemical or crude oil spillage in oil rich Niger-Delta Region of Nigeria has been linked to greater risk of developing different types of cancer, congenital heart defects among other ill effects due to exposure of the inhabitants to toxic pollutants.

Until now, there have been several efforts and promises by the Federal Government and oil companies operating in the region to clean up the oil and gas spills but with limited success.

But recent study suggests that researchers have discovered a possible solution to the damage done by oil spills: a bacterium that feeds on oil.

Scientists at the University of Quebec, Canada have found that the bacterium, called Alcanivorax borkumensis, uses the key components that make up natural gas and petroleum to energize.

The team behind the discovery believe the oil-eating bacterium could help clean up the devastating oil spills that have become commonplace.

The findings are published in Biochemical Engineering Journal.

Also, Nigerian researchers have demonstrated the ability of three indigenous mushroom species, Pleurotus tuber regium, Pleurotus pulmonarius and Lentinus squarrosulus to degrade crude oil in liquid medium.

The results of the study published in Science Alert and Research Journal of Environmental Sciences showed the three indigenous mushroom degraded crude oil at different rates however, the inoculation with mycelia mixture of the three fungi was the most effective in oil degradation and was significantly different (p = 0.05) from other treatments.

Olutayo M. Adedokun and Anthony E. Ataga concluded: “This study demonstrates the of utility three native mushroom species: Pleurotus tuber regium, Pleurotus pulmonarius and Lentinus squarrosulus in management of oil spills.”

Prof. Dotun Adekunle of the Department of Botany and Microbiology University of Lagos, Akoka, defined bioremediation as any process that uses microorganisms, fungi, green plants or their enzymes to return the natural environment altered by contaminants to its original condition.

Several studies have shown that bioremediation may be employed to attack specific soil contaminants, such as degradation of chlorinated hydrocarbons by bacteria.

An example of a more general approach is the cleanup of oil spills by the addition of nitrate and/or sulfate fertilisers to facilitate the decomposition of crude oil by indigenous or exogenous bacteria.

Bioremediation of industrial sites and petrochemical spillage often involves finding microbes that can gorge themselves on the toxic chemicals. This leaves behind a non-toxic residue or mineralised material.


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