Robert, Peter, Saeed, and Felix attended the 3rd International Symposium on Applied Microbiology and Molecular Biology in Oil Systems. The conference began with a workshop on metagenomics which is the study of samples of DNA/Genes retrieved directly from an eco system-sample. After this we got to the conference proper, with multiple presentations and small breakout sessions for posters. The conference room is shown below.

An important topic raised by many of the speakers was the methanogenesis of oil. This is the conversion of oil to methane by bacteria. The vast majority of methanogenesis is carried out in an anaerobic process, a relatively recent discovery. Smithella is the genus mainly implicated in oil degradation to methane, though Fermicute is also thought to perhaps play a role in high temperature environments. Methane has advantages over oil as an energy source because it produces half of the downstream emissions of oil. Also since only 17% of oil from oilsands is extracted using currently employed methods, the rest can be extracted as methane. In order to do this bacteria have to be optimized for methanogenesis, they need to be transported along with nutrients, on a massive scale to the wells, and thus efficient transport mechanisms have to be developed. Also efficient extraction methods for the methane should be developed and gas leakage will have to be minimized. Dr. Antione Page discussed the degradation of coal into methane by microbes, he talked about the types of microbial communities involved in coal degradation and his quantitative identification of coal degradation genes.

The use biosurfactant producing microbes (Bacilli) in crude oil extraction was also discussed by Michael McInerny, he found that the use introduction of Bacilli into the well (along with nutrients) greatly increased the yield of oil produced.

Another problem plaguing the oil sands are naphthenic acids (NAs), the harms of which, both to the ecosystem and industry, are documented elsewhere. Several anaerobic degradation pathways of NAs are known. Dr. Corrine Whitby examined many of the metabolites of the degradation pathway, ethanoic acid was a common metabolite in many pathways involving both aromatic and aliphatic NAs. The other method of NA degradation which was discussed by Lisa involved ozonation of the NA, she also touched on how this process affected the local microbial population. In summary the microbes are able to degrade the products of the ozonation.

A common theme in many of the talks was microbially-induced corrosion (MIC) in oil pipelines, refineries and tanks. To begin there several factors which must be examined before concluding that the corrosion is of a microbial cause: are physical/chemical conditions conducive to growth? Do changes in the environment affect growth? Generally when another course of corrosion cannot be identified MIC is singled out as the culprit. Sulfur reducing and methanogenic bacteria have been implicated in MIC, they all use the cathodic H2 produced by iron corrosion. Some limited solutions to MIC were proposed which focussed on limiting the amount of water and oxygen exposure.

Otherwise the food was good, and it was really interesting listening to the different oil sands related biological research. We got lots of interest at our poster, which gave us a chance to talk about iGEM and practice for the jamboree!