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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: $207416
  • Program/Competition: User Partnership Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2016
  • Status: Closed

Oil sands mining industry generates large volumes of Oil Sand Process-affected Water (OSPW) consisting of persistent organic pollutants, such as Naphthenic Acids (NA). Treatment of OSPW to remove NA, that are toxic to aquatic life, is a liability for the industry and costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Oil sands companies, such as Suncor, are actively seeking efficient and economical solutions to treat OSPW and adapt sustainable mining practices.

Professor Vikram Yadav from the University of British Columbia and Metabolik Technologies — a start-up developing bioremediation-based solutions for oil sands tailing ponds — is developing a technology platform for efficient and economical detoxification of OSPW. The team will screen for NA degrading bacteria from OSPW, use transcriptomics to identify genes involved in NA degradation, and finally, use those genes to engineer E. coli as an efficient NA degrader.

The team successfully identified six NA degrading Pseudomonas strains from OSPW. However, transcriptomic analyses revealed that a large section (10%) of the genome was involved in NA degradation, which made E.coli engineering challenging. As an alternative, the team decided to use the native Pseudomonas strains as chassis for high-throughput (HT) genome engineering and enhance their efficiency for NA degradation. The strategy to use naturally cold-adapted native strains also eliminated the requirement to engineer the strain for cold tolerance. Furthermore, the team has developed a whole-cell biosensor for HT screening of genome engineered Pseudomonas mutants and plans to test the efficiency of engineered strains in near future.