Need help on HS project on genetic engineering

EVS Consultants evswa at
Thu Dec 22 10:39:38 EST 1994

On 20 Dec 1994, Michael Cooley wrote:

> Joseph Hoffman (joehoffman at wrote:
> :  
> : Thanks for replying.  I read in a very obsolete source that about twenty-five
> : years ago, scientists had created a bacterium, a newer version of and old
> : bacterium called Pseudomonas.  This bacterium had a built-in appetite for
> : petroleum, and scientists were looking to begin using it to help clean up
> : oil spills.  Is this bacteria in use today?
> :                                            Joseph Hoffman
   Dr. Michael Cooley < mbcooley at > wrote:
> Ok, first we need to clear up a few problems with terminology. Scientists 
> have never created a bacterium. The term created is like made; it does 
> not describe what they did. A bacterium is a very complicated organism 
> and it's alive. We do not (and probably never will be able to) create 
> life. I don't know what exactly was done with this bacterium, but it was 
> probably fairly mild in comparison to today's standard. I have heard its 
> is still being used. I will post the question. 

Dr. Cooley (M.D. or Ph.D. and what discipline?) was correct to state that 
scientists have not created a bacterium.  However, they have been 
suggestful at placing genes in a plasmid and inserting the plasmid in 
bacterial cells.  This is relatively easy (often conducted as an 
experiment for microbiology students in third or fourth year of 
university) because bacteria do not have nuclei.  I am not familiar with 
the current state of research in this field any more, since it was back 
around 1984 and 1985 that I worked in microbial biotechnology.

I am not working in the field of environmental biology.  Some of my work 
involves reviewing clean-up of contaminated sites (remediation).  There 
are occassions where bacteria are used for clean up of oily wastes and 
petroleum products.  Some bacteria will use petroleum if there is little 
other organic sources for growth.  Some companies produce these bacteria 
in quantity for environmental engineering firms to utilize in 
bioremediation projects.  i am not entirely familiar with the specific 
techniques used.  However, I know that if you provide slightly elevated 
concentrations of petroleum products in a nutrient mix to bacteria, you 
will create a condition of natural selection in which the bacteria who 
opportunistically utilize the petroleum product when there is little 
other organic source available will grow more rapidly than other forms of 
bacteria.  When repeated with increasing concentrations, you will then 
have selected the bacteria with the petroleum-degrading capability in 
greater numbers.  It is important however, to continue to provide other 
nutrients to the bacteria.  Like other forms of life, bacteria require 
such nutrients a nitrogen and potassium.  Therefore, in bioremediation 
projects nutrients are also use in tandum with bacteria.  This is not 
genetically altering the bacteria in this case; it is more like pushing 
Darwin's natural selection to the limits.  It's very similar to what has 
been done with animal breeding for centuries, except with bacteria, the 
life cycle is less than 24 hours.

I can't give you any specific references for bacteria use in oil spills.  
However, there was an article in Environmental Science and Technology 
Journal in 1993 (Volume 27, page 691-698) called "Strategy Using 
Bioreactors and Specially Selected Microorganisms for Bioremediation of 
Groundwater Contaminated with Creosote and Pentachlorophenol" and was 
written by James F. Mueller, Suzanne E. Lantz, Derek Ross, Richard J. 
Colvin, Douglas P. Middaugh and Parmely H. Pritchard.  The first two 
people are with SBP Technologies, Inc. in Gulf Breeze, FL.  Ross and 
Colvin are with The ERM Group ( a environmental consulting firm), and 
Middaugh and Pritchard are with the U.S. EPA in Gulf Breeze, FL.  The 
studies were done at the American Creosote Works site in Pensacola, FL.  
Some of the bacterial strains used included Pseudomonas sp. (sp.= 
scientific notation meaning species was not identified, only genus).

Joseph, you may want to check some write-ups on the Exxon Valdez oil 
spill in Alaska.  I'm not certain, but I recall that they might have used 
a bacterial spray on some of the beaches impacted by the oil spill.

Good luck Joseph.

Corinne Severn, B.S.
EVS Environment Consultants

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