The IX International Forum

Arctic: today and the future

December 05-07, 2019, St.Petersburg


Frost-resistant microbes will help to protect the Arctic from oil spills


Frost-resistant microbes will help to protect the Arctic from oil spills

Russian scientists have created a unique facility aimed at effective and safe cleaning of oil pollution in the Far North. Its basis is microbes that are able to survive even at sub-zero temperatures and feed on hydrocarbons, Andrey Shestakov, the head of the microbial biotechnology group at the Moscow State University said.

The scientist emphasized that the methods of cleaning of oil pollution by microorganisms have long been known. However, all these methods are suitable for warm conditions, not colder than 15 degrees Celsius. So they are not suitable for the Arctic climate conditions.

Russian experts, with the support of the Non-Governmental Development Institute "Innopraktika", organized a number of expeditions aimed at finding microbes that could withstand low temperatures and feed on oil. Firstly scientists went to the northern ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk to the old Arctic military bases and abandoned weather stations. To those places, where it is cold and there are a lot of fuel oil, diesel fuel or gasoline.

In total, over 300 samples of seawater and soil were collected. Samples were frozen so that northern organisms wouldn’t die in the warm climate and then they were sent to Moscow.

As a result, microorganisms were found. But there was a problem of their storage and delivery to the site of the oil spill. Scientists proposed an elegant solution: the microbes were immersed in a sleeping state and placed inside the balls with a diameter of just half a millimeter. Tiny spheres dissolve and release their contents only under the influence of oil.

Then the microbes eat hydrocarbons, multiply and become food for zooplankton, which fish eats. Thus, pollution is eliminated. Maybe for a long time, but it is absolutely safe for the environment. The newest Russian facility for the Arctic has already been tested and now it is being launched into mass production.

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