Modular Genetics, Inc. (Modular) and the Center for Crops Utilization Research at Iowa State University (ISU) are collaborating to develop a process aimed at manufacturing bio-dispersants from soybean byproducts that could be used to protect coastal wetlands from the harmful effects of the massive BP oil spill.
Modular has shown that a particular bacterium converts soybean hulls into a bio-dispersant that can potentially be used to replace the toxic chemical dispersants that were used previous in the Gulf. Modular and ISU intend to scale-up this process at ISU’s BioCentury Research Farm near Boone, Iowa. This natural fermentation process is analogous to the well known process of yeast fermentation used to make beer. However, rather than converting sugar into beer, Modular’s bacterium converts soybean hulls into a bio-dispersant. According to Professor Somasundaran, a dispersant expert from Columbia University, “use of bio-dispersants should stimulate the rate of natural microbial breakdown of the oil”. This approach is currently being tested in the laboratory. If the results are positive, the next step will be controlled field trials, followed by larger-scale testing. Professor Somasundaran recently described this idea to Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, at a special meeting in New Orleans on June 5th, 2010.