Microbial bioremediation of oil contaminated seawater: A survey of patent deposits and the characterization of the top genera applied

Helena D.M. Villela, Raquel S. Peixoto, Adriana U. Soriano, Flavia L. Carmo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Petroleum has been the world's major source of energy since the middle of the twentieth century, leading to positive changes but also social, political, and environmental problems worldwide. Oil contamination affects all ecosystems, and the remediation of polluted sites using environmentally friendly strategies is crucial. Here, we report an analysis of the patent documents of potential petroleum bioremediation techniques that use microbes to clean seawater. The patent search was performed using Orbit Intelligence®, SciFinder® and the Derwent World Patents Index®. A group of 500 patent documents were validated according to the search objective and carefully studied. Increases in patent deposits coincide with periods following widely reported oil spills, suggesting a relationship between media disclosure and stimulation of innovation activities. China leads the list of countries with patent applications in bioremediation with 152 deposits, followed by Russia with 133 and the US with 48. These three countries have completely different temporal deposit profiles, influenced by their historical, political, and economic scenarios. A total of 368 patents described degradation of the oil compounds exclusively by bacteria, 24 by fungi and yeasts, 1 by Archaea, 1 using a microalgal strain, and 32 by mixed consortia. The leading microbial genera found in the patents are Pseudomonas (114 patents), Bacillus (75), and Rhodococcus (60). In the top-10 list of microbial strains mostly cited/claimed, no genera are obligate hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria. This fact, together with the broad pattern found in the main International Patent Classification (IPC) codes, suggest that most of the documents are general bioremediation approaches and not focused on oil-polluted seawater. This work highlights the importance of stimulating the development of innovative environmentally friendly strategies focused on the degradation of oil hydrocarbons in marine ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-758
Number of pages16
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 20 2019
Externally publishedYes


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