New genome paves the way for better pipeline protection

Protection of pipelines from microbial corrosion may have taken a step further this week as scientists at the Institute for Genomic Research announced this week they have deciphered the genome of the microbe which causes this process.

Microbial corrosion of pipelines has cost the petroleum industry and other sites around the world large amounts in the past, as it targets oil and natural gas pipelines and can corrode oilfield equipment.

The discovery of the genes, which are present in the microbe when it is growing on the metal, will allow the researchers to study which genes are active during the process of corrosion.

"This knowledge is a prerequisite to devising more intelligent ways to prevent microbially induced corrosion," says Gerrit Voordouw, a microbiologist at the University of Calgary in Canada and a collaborator on the project.

The microbe identified as key to this corrosion process is Desulfovibrio vulgarius. This is being used as a model for the study of these sulphate-reducing bacteria, which use hydrogen, organic acid or alcohols as electron donors to reduce certain metals, including uranium.

The researchers are hopeful that this analysis of the bacteria will also pave the way for new methods in the clean up of metallic pollutants, such as uranium, from contaminated sites.

A network of c-type cytochrome, proteins, which facilitate electron transfers and metal reduction, were found in the D. vulgaris genome. This presence is thought to give the microbe a significant capacity and flexibility to reduce metals.

Judy D Wall, a biochemist at the University of Missouri-Colombia who collaborated genome analysis, says that having the genome of D. Vulgaris will help determine exactly how the microbe corrodes and allow solutions to prevent the damage. "Understanding how sulphate-reducing bacteria use substrates to make energy and how they position themselves in the environment is fundamental to efforts to control the bacteria or use them for clean up purposes," she said.

By Sorcha Clifford



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