Biotechnological innovations can reduce the energy and chemical use of many industrial processes. Because of this, novel techniques are supplanting more traditional chemical and physical methods for the treatment of industrial waste and effluent, drinking water, air, exhaust fumes, polluted soils and land, and solid waste. The two most interesting procedures in this area are bioremediation and bioabsorption.

Bioremediation involves the degradation of pollutants by microorganisms and/or their enzymatic pathways. Bioabsorption, on the other hand, consists in the removal of pollutants by a living or dead biomass. Bioabsorbing biomasses derived from industry and agriculture are an interesting alternative to active carbon for the treatment of industrial refuse. However, these nonconventional and low-cost absorbants are currently little used by industry. Setting up processes capable of using these materials would permit to exploit a resource that would otherwise be lost and, thus, could transform a cost into a revenue.

A mixture of aerobic microorganisms capable of degrading hydrocarbons (especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were used first in the United States of America in the 1990’s for the treatment of hydrocarbon-containing industrial slurries; a similar process for the treatment of crude-oil slurries from stock tanks was also developed in Italy. But, up to a few years ago the role of biotechnology in the waste-disposal sector was negligible. However, it is now becoming imperative to develop alternatives to the use of landfill and thermodestruction plants, which are being increasingly phased out or are too expensive.

Biotechnology is also increasingly looking to improving the treatment of solid urban refuse. In particular, aerobic fermentation of organic waste (composting) has been steadily increasing in Europe since the 1980’s, and much effort is being directed to the development of anaerobic digestion processes.

BioTekNet has gained a great deal of expertise in this area, and in 2008 we applied for a patent for a new strain of Novosphingobium sp. called PP1Y, a gram-negative bacterium isolated from superficial marine water found next to patches of floating fuel in the port of Pozzuoli, near Naples.

Mirobiological and biochemical characterisation of this strain revealed that it had developed, or managed to combine, a series of molecular mechanisms rendering it unique amongst the Sphingomonadacae and extremely well adapted to growth in a rather unusual niche: the water/fuel interface. PP1Y is, therefore, an extremely interesting tool for in situ bioremediation, and in particular for the containment and reduction of fuel spills. In fact, the capacity of this bacterium to emulsify diesel and cover it in a biofilm not only reduces the need for environmentally unfriendly detergents and solvents but also hinders further dispersion of the most hydrosoluble and volatile hydrocarbons.

Moreover, the ability of PP1Y to grow in a wide range of temperatures, pHs and, above all, salinities renders it suitable for use in many environmental settings, including brackish and marine waters.

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