Mycoremediation of soil contaminated with crude oil
“The story of the twentieth-century Trinidad economy would be, in large measure, the story of oil.”
Trinidad is the largest crude oil and natural gas producer in the Caribbean. Over the last century, Trinidad has seen significant oil and gas exploration activity on land and in shallow water with cumulative oil production of over three (3) billion barrels of oil. However, the country’s hydrocarbon sector experienced a shift from oil to a mostly natural gas in the early 1990s. Overall, the energy sector continues to be an integral part of the economic growth and development of the country as it is still a critical source of government revenue. Over the last 5 years, oil has also been the source of Trinidad’s worst environmental disasters in history. Between 17 December 2013 and 29 December 2013 alone, there have been 11 oil spills with a reported leakage of 7,000 barrels. Chemical management of oil spills is quick and toxic (e.g. Corexit which was used in the Deep Horizon disaster), while microbial management is slow but with much lower toxicity thresholds.
Fungi are natural bio-remediators that exist in soil. These organisms have been studied with respect to their ability to degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), polycyclic chlorine biphenyls (PCB’s), polycyclic chlorine polymers (PCP’s), TNT, neurotoxins, and synthetic dyes. Some species of fungi can degrade complex pollutants, e.g. PAH’s, into simpler compounds that are more bio-available to other organisms, similar to how they function to breakdown complex plant materials.
Research is being conducted towards:
- Understanding the different possible modes of remediation utilized by fungi
- Comparing the genetic diversity of candidate fungi with demonstrated myco-remediation abilities
- Manipulation of fungal mechanisms to increase the rate of remediation
Research Team Members: Dr. Sephra Rampersad and Dr. Adesh Ramsubhag (primary investigators), Amanda Ramdass (research assistant and postgraduate student), Vijai Ramdhan (Biochemistry Laboratory Technician), Renee Ali (Biotechnology Laboratory Technician), Stephen Narine (Field Assistant), Ria Villafana (volunteer graduate)