Since the dawn of the 20th century, the race for oil has led to numerous oil incidents, such as the grounding of the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz in 1978 or the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010.
Many clean-up techniques are used to mitigate the potential impacts generated by oil spills. One of these techniques, known as dispersion, consists in spraying dispersants, which contain surfactants. These agents break up the surface slick into a multitude of droplets distributed throughout the water column, thereby promoting the biodegradation of the oil.
However the dispersants that are currently used are obtained through petrochemical processing and their potential toxicity is a concern.
Given this backdrop, the possibility of developing dispersants of biological origin, with a higher biodegradability potential, would appear to be an interesting prospect. This concept is the focus of a thesis entitled “Exploration of the biosurfactant production potential of fungi and use in marine pollution response” conducted at Brest University’s LUBEM laboratory (Laboratoire Universitaire de Biodiversité et Ecologie Microbienne), in collaboration with Cedre.
This thesis covers several tasks:
- isolating, identifying and screening the surfactant production potential of microscopic fungi taken from contaminated environments (water, sediment) and from the UBO Culture Collection (UBOCC),
- studying the impact and optimising culture conditions for surfactant production,
- assessing their in situ effectiveness (compared to synthetic surfactants used in dispersants), at laboratory scale, and finally
- characterising the chemical nature of the surfactant molécules.
Biotechnological applications could subsequently be envisaged, if these molecules are proven to be effective.