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Synthetic Biology Solutions for Detoxification of Oil Sands Process Affected Water (OSPW)

  • Project Leaders: Vikramaditya Yadav, James Wells
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $207,416
  • Competition: User Partnership Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome BC
  • Fiscal Year: 2016
  • Status: Active

Oil Sand Process-affected Water (OSPW) is generated during oil sand mining and contains persistent organic pollutants that are toxic to aquatic life. Moreover, treatment of OSPW cost hundreds of millions of dollars to oil sand companies, such as Suncor. An efficient and economical solution to treat OSPW is critical for sustainable oil sand mining. Vikramaditya Yadav at UBC, have teamed up with Metabolik Technologies to develop a potential technology platform that could detoxify OSPW in an energy efficient and economical manner for Suncor. Using synthetic biology tools and omics platforms, the team will engineer a cold adapted bacteria (strain of E. coli) that can tolerate and rapidly degrade napthenic acid, a pollutant in OSPW. A genetic circuit in the engineered strain will modulate the biodegradation activity, whereas a built-in ‘kill switch’ will prevent dispersion of the bacterial population in the environment. Once developed, this combination would allow safe release of treated OSPW into rivers without deleterious environmental consequences and expected to save nearly $400 million annually for oil sand companies. It can be further applied for expedited rehabilitation of contaminated wastewater in many resource based industries in BC, such as mine tailings and shale and natural gas deposits.