THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (TIP): A scientist from Kerala has discovered three new species of oil-degrading bacteria from industrial waste. Dr R B Smitha of the Malabar Botanical Garden (MBG) in Kozhikode discovered one new species of Pseudomonas and two new species of Burkholderia, widely known as good bio-degraders of toxic and tough compounds.

The discovery was made as part of her Young Scientist Project – ‘Isolation and purification of Catecol 2,3 dioxygenase, a key hydrocarbon degrading enzyme present in industrial waste’ with MBG Director Dr R Prakash Kumar as the mentor. The project is funded by the Union Department of Science and Technology. The findings have been submitted to GenBank, a nucleotide sequence database.

Dr Smitha, a native of Thiruvananthapuram, was awarded PhD in Biotechnology in 2010 by the Enzyme Technology Laboratory, University of Calicut. She already has patents pending from her previous work on the extraction of alpha amylase enzyme and insecticidal toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki and tests for their efficacy in controlling the Eriophyid mite parasite, which causes the destructive ‘mandari’ (root wilt disease) in coconut palms. Her current study has resulted in the discovery of two new members in the genus Burkholderia which consists of a number of versatile bacteria that occupy a wide range of ecological niches.

Some of them are capable of breaking down toxic compounds found in pesticides and herbicides and others found to repress pathogens present in soil and help promote crop growth. Burkholderia strains have exceptional metabolic versatility and can also be used for bioremediation, a process for removing waste and pollutants from contaminated sites using microbes or other organisms. More than 190 known species belonging to the genus Pseudomonas are already targets of considerable research for their ability to thrive in diverse and often harsh environments, and their ability to metabolise a variety of nutrients.

Like Burkhoderia, Pseudomonas bacteria have also been found to be effective agents for bioremediation. Since the mid-1980s, certain members of the Pseudomonas genus have been applied to cereal seeds or applied directly to soils as a way of preventing the growth or establishment of crop pathogens, practice referred to as bio control.

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