Biosurfactant molecules from bacteria that survive at the poles could be used to make 'green' detergents and biofuel.
A new study by scientists at the German Geosciences Research Center (GFZ) has investigated the possible applications of these molecules. The research, published in the journal Cell, proposes that these bacteria could be used to makedetergents are more environmentally friendly, serve as abiodiesel additiveor helpeliminate pollution in icy seas.
Amedea Perfumo, lead author of the research explains that these molecules have great potential. "Biosurfactants are safe to release into the environment and those that are produced by bacteria that live in those extreme climates have an additional characteristic, that they work at sub-zero temperatures, which gives them great stability."
But what are biosurfactants?
The term surfactant comes from the Englishsurfactant, which in turn comes fromSurface Active Agent. In Spanish they are also known as ‘surfactants’. These are capable of reducing the surface tension between two elements, for example between a liquid and a solid or between two liquids that are insoluble with each other. By reducing the surface tension, surfactants favor their mixing.
Then, these compounds allow the detergents to mix better with the water and promote the cleaning of dirt. Without its action, the detergents would only slide on the surface to be cleaned.
Surfactants have other uses, for example they are used as an ingredient in moisturizers, and also in shaving foam because they allow razors to easily remove stubble and reduce irritation. It is also added to automobile lubricants to prevent particles from adhering to engine parts, and to allow parts to move easily and the vehicle to run smoothly.
Perfumo tells about its advantages: “this stability has great implications on the possible uses of these molecules. For example, they can be applied as additives in biodiesel to improve the slow flow of these fuels in cold temperatures. In detergents, they will reduce washing temperatures. And they could also be used to extract natural gas from ice crystals or to clean up oil spills in colder ocean regions. "
Its impact on the environment
Surfactants are not harmful to the environment. A comparative study by the Human and Environmental Risk Assessment Initiative (HERA) concludes that risk assessments show that these substances, although used in a very high volume and released in large quantities in the aquatic environment, do not have a negative impact in aquatic or sedimentary environments at current levels of use.
Despite all these advantages, much work remains to be done to determine the most useful bacteria, the conditions under which they will produce the highest yields, and whether it is possible to produce biosurfactants industrially as part of the process.
Perfumo believes that now is a good time to advance these biotechnological applications. “The cold regions of our planet are becoming more accessible for exploration and scientific research. Furthermore, the increasing availability of Extremophilic bacteria in culture collections has also improved this accessibility ”.
With information from: