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Microbial piezophysiology: which role for high pressure in oil degradation?

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  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Medicine


- 94 - Microbial piezophysiology: which role for high pressure in oil degradation? Scoma Alberto 1 , Ramiro Vilchez-Vargas 1 , Marta Barbato 2 , Francesca Mapelli 2 , Sara Borin 2 , Daniele Daffonchio 2 and Nico Boon 1 1 Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology (LabMET), Ghent University Coupure Links 653, B-9000, Gent, Belgium E-mail: [email protected] 2 Department of Food, Environmental and Nutritional Sciences (DeFENS), University of Milan via Celoria 2, 20133, Milano, Italy Most of the scientific research carried out so far in microbiology and biotechnology is focused on the understanding of biological kinetics at ambient pressure. This condition may characterize the large majority of microbes on dry land, while it does not apply to those living in the sea. Oceans are populated by a large variety of microorganisms that are able to survive in extremely harsh conditions (Kato et al., 1998). Here, metabolic pathways are typically affected by high pressure (as well as by low temperatures) in a manner that is not completely clear. When oil spills occur, a relevant amount of hydrocarbons (HCs) is released into the environment (Adcroft et al., 2010). In the case of marine accidents, such compounds will spread horizontally, eventually reaching the closest shores, and vertically, dropping downwards to the sea floor. Here, although HCs are present in nature, marine ecosystems may be able to degrade only a very minor fraction of such spills. Typically, one of the main reasons for HCs low biodegradability is their low solubility in water, preventing an efficient microbial uptake. It is known that high pressure increases oil solubility in water (Srivastan et al., 1992), while also supporting an increase in the fluidity of cells’ membrane (Bartlett, 2000), both easing microbial access to HCs. Microorganisms responsible for bioremediation are known to produce surfactants, which further enhance oil so

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